For the second consecutive season, the best player in the NBA doesn’t have a ring.
But just like last year, the season won’t end that way.
Kevin Durant has surpassed LeBron James as the best player in the NBA, and it’s not because of his numbers on the court.
Modesty is more than just charming, and in Durant’s case, it will be the reason the 24-year-old will soar past James in the number of titles he’ll win.
Durant’s obliging heart will allow the Thunder to function for the long term.
The superstar scorer may appear more humble than we like our superstars, but don’t confuse his unassuming guise as a lack of hunger.
Durant is the sweet kid brother of the game’s favorite villain. But as the analogy grows along with the evolution of the league’s top superstars, little brother has blossomed to the point that he’s about to throw it back on big brother.
You don't win three scoring titles in five seasons without a level of drive greater than even Durant’s 7’5” wingspan.
Without some form of moxie, you don't guide a franchise that had 20 wins in Durant’s rookie season in Seattle to a finals appearance just four seasons later.
Durant and James, who turns 28 years old next week, have nearly identical statistics through the first part of the season. Durant averages 27.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game and James averages 25.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game.
The difference: Oklahoma City has a league-best 21-5 record, a leap ahead of Miami.
It’s not a knock or oversight of James' freakish abilities. Last year’s MVP puts up comic-book numbers with his superhero physique. He can do more overall on the court than Durant through his unselfish play, except one thing: move over.
Durant is assertive on the basketball court, but obliging in the big picture.
While loyalty is not always honored, Durant is being rewarded for his faithfulness to the Thunder and graciousness throughout the team’s building process.
Oklahoma City management has surrounded Durant with talent, but it was only possible because Durant never held his team hostage with implicit ultimatums.
After years demanding complementing talent with the Cleveland Cavaliers, James flaunted his way to Miami. Meanwhile, it was Durant who quietly recommitted to the league’s third-smallest market.
His loyal attitude allowed the Thunder to build a foundation.
Because the cordial nature of their still-young superstar, the Thunder were able to discover treasures of overachievement through drafting Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden.
Durant didn’t bemoan the loss of Harden this offseason; instead, he welcomed the shooting of Kevin Martin as a replacement.
Though the Thunder’s leader probably should check Westbrook at times for the occasional erratic on-court behavior, Durant’s agreeable persona has allowed for Westbrook to evolve into a superstar in his own right.
Westbrook continues to get better alongside Durant, and the point guard has improved statistically each season since he was drafted in 2008. The same development happened for Ibaka and Harden.
The franchise’s winning percentage has climbed each season since Durant was drafted in 2007 by the then Seattle SuperSonics.
After suffering through a 23-win season (.280) in the inaugural season of Oklahoma City in 2008-09, Oklahoma City then followed with a 50-win season (.610), a 55-win season (.671) and a 47-win season (.712) in last year’s lockout-shortened schedule.
Now, Oklahoma City is playing better basketball than ever.
Conversely, James has created a short-term situation in Miami.
Each year, Miami will try to fit together pieces around James, Bosh and the physically fading Wade. But the NBA’s title puzzle doesn’t always fit together so easily. Each year, free agency will offer the same odds as any Vegas game.
James retreated from Cleveland for the quick fix while Durant has built a foundation for the long haul.
You think Durant has forgotten the enduring image of James celebrating a title in Miami after the Heat dismantled Oklahoma City in five games?
Little brother has become the game’s best player through a personality that allows him to lead the league’s best team.
It will pay off with his first MVP award and an NBA title.
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