It's KD Against the World: What a Championship Means for USA Basketball
Forget where you have him ranked among the best players in the world. Throw out the comparisons with LeBron and Kobe. Stop wondering if he will ever catch them. Kevin Durant doesn't give a damn about that sort of thing.
At least not at the moment.
Nope, right now, Kevin has a championship to win and the world is his competition. So forgive him, but KD has had one thing on his mind recently. That is winning these four straight elimination games. The first of which Team USA has already won over Angola, the African champion. The next is a quarterfinal matchup against Russia.
Without LeBron, Kobe, Melo, and company, the USA basketball program appeared to be in a rough situation. The task they had been left was to win a World Championship with a completely new team from the 2008 Olympic team. A humble superstar scoring champion doesn't hurt when you are looking for a player to build around.
So far in the first six games, there has been no disappointment in Durant. He does whatever is necessary to win the game, without regard for his stat sheet. In both the Slovenia and Angola games, he only played half of the game. In the team's biggest struggle with Brazil, Durant sat out for only one minute of the game and was the leading scorer with 27 points. His 17.7 ppg has him ranked fifth in the tournament in scoring after the round of 16.
Despite Durant's humble demeanor, there certainly is an aggressive scorer within KD's game. The game against Brazil was the perfect example. Kevin did not go looking for his points. He did not force any shots that were not within the rhythm of the game. He simply found his shots and knocked them down. He was four of six from the international three-point line in the game.
The Brazil game was not only where Kevin scored his largest amount of points but also where he put up the most shots. Proving that he is without a doubt the leader of this team in pressure situations. When the USA needed a bucket most, several times Billups or Rose would penetrate the defense to get the ball out to Durant for the three ball.
There are eight teams left and these are the games in which the competition is better and the stakes are higher. Everything up until now has essentially been an exhibition. With real pressure in a championship scenario, how will the 21-year-old Durant react?
His scoring ability is no secret, but people are beginning to realize he is also a very good passer and, of course, it is hard to take him off the dribble or shoot over him because of those incredibly long arms. Though his skills are undeniable, his ability to lead a team and handle the pressure of winning are still to be determined.
That is what the World Basketball Championships are teaching us about Kevin Durant. If the US wins this tournament, it will be under the leadership of its best player who is still only 21 years old. That is no small accomplishment in the modern competitive world of international basketball. However, this tournament is far from won.
Russia may not have their star Andrei Kirlenko, but who has had their best players with them in this tournament? Regardless, Russia has already upset Greece in the final match of pool play. They are not a team to underestimate.
But I believe that was the idea behind the structure of Team USA. These players have been plucked from the underdogs of the NBA. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Rudy Gay, and Derrick Rose are all up-and-coming players, unfamiliar to the role of being the favorite. The media has formed the impression of this team as the B-team, which they are. There is not a single remaining player from the team that won gold in the 2008 Olympics.
It is the one element that has been lacking in the past three World Championships. This team has a point to make, and they know the only way to prove that point is by winning. A winning atmosphere has been built from the ground up in the USA basketball program. Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have this group of young players right where they want them.
During the grueling NBA season, these players are held back in the standings by the league's big boys. Other than Lamar Odom, there are no players from any of the elite contenders in the NBA. Those who know Lamar Odom's story know that he has no problem playing the underdog role. He is quite familiar with succeeding through adversity.
If they are going to prove that the United States is still the dominant power in the basketball world, and will be throughout the next decade, this is the opportunity. A loss and there would be hesitation about the future of the program. There would be doubt in the minds of so many who have praised the development and success of US basketball.
The pressure may seem like a heavy weight on such slender shoulders. However, Kevin Durant is going to need practice with this sort of heavy lifting. After all, he will be carrying the NBA into the next generation.
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