5 Things Kevin Durant Must Do to Silence Critics in 2012-13
Anyone who's still critical of Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant probably also has a problem with puppies, modern medicine and democracy. At just 24 years old, KD has made three trips to the All-Star Game, won three consecutive scoring titles and already visited the NBA Finals. Despite all that, some demanding critics might actually be justified in craving even bigger things from No. 35.
That seems unfair, doesn't it?
Considering the swath of destruction Durant has cut through the league in his brief career, asking him to do even more feels a little like watching Moses part the Red Sea and saying, "That's great, pal, but what else ya got?"
That's just it, though: KD's superhuman talent has everyone expecting production of biblical proportions.
Nobody criticizes, say, Luol Deng for failing to get his team over the hump in key playoff games. That's because Deng's a good player—not a great one. Because of Durant's brilliance, it somehow seems appropriate to hold him to a higher standard, to require more.
The amazing thing is that OKC's sixth-year stud is already doing things this season to silence critics that might knock his average defense, lack of a post game and No. 2 status in the league's superstar hierarchy.
Sure, anyone ridiculous enough to actually criticize Durant is either a fool, a fan of straw-man arguments or Skip Bayless (which are all sort of the same thing), but just for the sake of discussion, let's dig deeper into the ways KD can respond to his detractors.
Here's what Durant's got to do to make his critics eat their words.
Note: All stats accurate through games played Dec. 11.
Quit Making Movies
Kevin Durant is one of the few NBA players that has to deal with critics from outside the sports world, thanks to the premier of his universally panned film,Thunderstruck.
KD's ill-fated foray onto the big screen was met with some nasty reviews, and it sits at a decidedly "unfresh" 20 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
Apparently, the lessons we all learned from the cinematic laughingstock that was Shaquille O'Neal's Kazaam were wasted on Durant, who somehow agreed to sign onto a flick that seems to be about the lost Jonas brother stealing his talent with a magic basketball.
In all seriousness, KD really shouldn't care what film critics say. He's a basketball player, not an actor. But before we got to the more serious issues on which Durant can silence his critics, this had to be mentioned.
Knock it off, Kevin. You've got a blockbuster career going, so there's no need for this straight-to-video nonsense.
Earn a Spot on the NBA All-Defensive Team
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Everyone knows Kevin Durant can fill it up. The guy has led the Association in scoring for three straight seasons, and his efficiency is only improving (more on that later). But in order to become a more complete player, and silence any critics who term him a one-way threat, Durant needs to earn his way onto the NBA's All-Defensive Team.
KD has a reputation as a solid but improving defender among scouts and stat heads, but the fact that he didn't even receive a single vote when the All-Defensive Teams were named last year shows he's got a long way to go.
Fortunately, length is exactly what Durant can use to crack the first or second team this year. Right now, OKC's rangy swingman is using his considerable wingspan to average a career-high 1.4 blocks and 1.4 steals per game.
We know the voters for the All-Defensive teams clearly value vanity stats like blocks and steals because Durant's teammate, Serge Ibaka, made it onto the league's first team last year despite actually being just an above-average defender. The voters obviously didn't watch much tape, but they sure did like the look of Ibaka's league-leading block numbers.
It'd be ideal if Durant continued to improve as an individual and team defender, but if he wants to silence his critics by making the All-Defensive Team, the jumps in his "cosmetic" defensive stats are certainly helping his cause.
Join the 50-40-90 Club
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Nobody's technically criticizing Durant for not being a member of the exclusive 50-40-90 club, but if he managed to join the elite fraternity of ultra-efficient shooters, he'd have one more arrow in his quiver to fire back at any detractors.
For the uninitiated, the 50-40-90 club refers to a select few NBA players who have shot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from beyond the arc and 90 percent at the line in a single season. Only Steve Nash, Larry Bird, Dirk Nowitzki, Mark Price and Reggie Miller have ever done it.
Right now, Durant is a fraction away from being on pace to pull off the feat. He's shooting 50.6 percent from the field, 44 percent from three and 89.5 percent from the foul line. Considering that he's eclipsed each of the percentages he needs during different seasons of his career, it's totally reasonable to assume he'll be able to put all three together at some point.
KD told Sam Amick of USA Today that he's very much aware of the significance of his shooting numbers, and he made it clear he's got his eye on gaining entry into the club.
"That's something I want do, something I'm chasing. That's being efficient, taking good shots, taking what the defense gives you, not forcing…That's what I want to do."
Durant's clearly taking aim at membership in the 50-40-90 club. Based on the accuracy he's shown throughout his career, it seems unlikely that he'll miss.
That ought to shut a few critics up.
Win the MVP
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
As long as Durant has been in the league, he's played in the shadow of LeBron James. There's no shame in that shade, though. Every other player in the NBA has spent the better part of the last decade looking up at the massive figure of the King.
Based on the way he's playing so far this season, it doesn't look like James has any plans on dropping off. So if Durant wants to climb up from his No. 2 spot in the league's superstar hierarchy, the only option he's got is to raise his own game.
Thus far, KD has done just that.
With career-high averages of 8.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, Durant has been finding ways to help his team without scoring. When he does opt to shoot, he's been doing it more accurately than ever before; his field-goal and three-point percentages are both higher than they've ever been.
There's really not any question that Durant has the talent to win an MVP award. If not for James, the winner of three out of the last four, KD might already have a couple of his own trophies. But it won't do OKC's superstar any good to lament the the fact that his rise to prominence has occurred during the reign of one of the greatest players in history.
Instead, Durant needs to view James as an example. If he can take a cue from LeBron's continued willingness to work on his game and his singular devotion to winning, there's a great chance KD will someday overtake James as the league's best player.
If anything, it's hard to imagine how James could get any better, so the fact that Durant still has room to grow bodes well for his chances to win an MVP.
Once he earns the league's highest individual honor, there's only one more thing he'll have to do to silence his critics for good...
Win a Championship
If you don't think Kevin Durant wants a title more than anything on earth, go ahead and watch that video again.
Last spring, he and his Thunder got close, but after winning just one game in the 2011-12 NBA Finals, all Durant could do was watch as LeBron James and the Miami Heat hoisted the Larry O'Brien Trophy as NBA champs.
More than any other sport, the NBA measures greatness in championship rings. That's because a truly transcendent basketball player can, in theory, elevate his team with supreme individual effort. The other side of that coin is an ugly one, though.
Think about it. Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing are all regarded as great players, but their critics have a simple fallback whenever they need to take them down a peg. None of them ever won a ring. Therefore, the thinking goes, they couldn't have really been that great.
If Durant truly wants to become bulletproof in the NBA's history books, the one thing he must do is take home a championship. If he does that, none of the other items in this little list will matter. He could never win another scoring title, fail to snag an MVP and totally give up on the defensive end.
A title would make all of that stuff fade into the background.
Really, this tells us all we need to know about Kevin Durant and his critics. The fact that the only legitimate knock on him at such a young age is that he hasn't yet won a ring speaks volumes for how special KD's talent is.
Truth be told, Durant has few critics. If he can win a championship, he'll have none.