Coming into the tournament, Kevin Durant had never been the man.
Sure, he’s been the undisputed leader of the Oklahoma City Thunder since they drafted him (while they were still the Seattle Supersonics), but prior to 2009, the Thunder were no more relevant to the NBA than any other Clipper or Timberwolf level bottom feeding team.
Durant, and by consequence the Thunder, immediately became media darlings as 2010 saw them improve on their dismal 2009 win total by 27 games, winning 50 overall.
Durant finished second in MVP voting as he led the Thunder’s surprising turnaround season, but despite his team’s improvement no one expected much out of them when they were pitted against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
When the Thunder were eliminated in 6 games, no one blamed Durant. Though Durant’s scoring output was limited, it was the first playoff series of his career. He had yet to acclimate himself to the pressure of an NBA playoff series.
That’s why Durant’s play in the FIBA tournament is so special.
Prior to the Gold Medal game, Durant had been dominating the tournament, much like he had been dominating in the NBA regular season. Along the way, Durant put himself on pace to average the highest points per game average in USA team history (a feat he accomplished in the Gold Medal game), and poured in a US record 38 points against Lithuania.
In the Gold Medal game itself, Durant showed the world that he’s a quick learner. Despite the fact that the rest of the US team was struggling Durant never lost his composure.
He never lost his hot hand either.
While the rest of the US team shot a combined 4-20 from the 3 point mark, Durant shot an astonishing 7 for 13 from that range.
The Thunder’s coaching staff was reportedly thrilled with the idea of Kevin Durant leading team USA due to the experience and confidence it could provide him with. If the FIBA tournament itself has been any indication, they were right on the money.
While Durant’s 2010 NBA scoring title was impressive, especially given his age, it wasn’t unprecedented. We’ve seen great players win scoring titles.
What makes Durant so incredible is his budding leadership and his level headedness in spite of all the success he enjoyed within the tournament.
On a day where even all-star veteran Chauncey Billups struggled tremendously, Durant took good shots, made them and never seemed rattled even when the bounces or the calls went in Turkey’s favor. That composure paid dividends today and could potentially pay dividends for the Thunder deep into next year’s playoffs.
In leading our great nation to the gold, Durant has shown that he may be ready to take his NBA career to the next level.