NBA Playoffs 2011: Why Kevin Durant and the Thunder Must Wait Another Year
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Let’s say you’re going to start an NBA franchise and you can pick any player to build your franchise with.
The obvious pick would be Kevin Durant, right?
The other stars in the league are either too old (Kobe/Wade), have nagging injuries (Chris Paul), or just aren’t complete enough of a player to build an entire franchise on (Dwight Howard, he’s gotta do something other than block shots).
Durant and Rose are young enough and good enough while LeBron’s still LeBron despite this past summer.
However, a case could be made for Blake Griffin for three reasons: a) he’s Blake Griffin, b) he’ll put people in the seats, c) he made the Clippers, the Clippers, relevant again, but I stashed him under the injuries department since all those dunks have to do something to those knees of his, but I digress.
Back to Durant.
He’s arguably the league’s best scorer, a great defender because of his length, can rebound and is a leader to his team. What more could you want from a franchise player?
Despite this, Durant’s still not ready to be the superstar we all think he is. Don’t get me wrong, he’s nearly there, but Game 4 showed there’s still a lot of growing left to do for him and his team.
In basketball, stats don’t really count or matter that much.
Sure, you can be the best scorer or the best rebounder but in the end, those stats are reflective of your team.
Teamwork, as well as team chemistry is just as vital as what the team’s shooting percentage is. You can have the league's best scorer or be the best offensive/defensive team, but it doesn't mean a thing if the team's not working together to win games.
So while Durant may be a statistical godsend, Game 4 showed he’s neither ready to be a superstar, nor is he ready to be in the finals, and his team isn’t ready either.
Sure, you can point to the FIBA Championships where he practically led the team to victory, but those games have a different style, a different meaning than the finals do.
Durant rose to the occasion then, but he was in his element, he was free to do as he pleased. Durant was not challenged then as he is being challenged now.
Most of the world’s best players opted out of the games (heck, Luis Scola was the highest scorer for those games).
USA, with Durant at its lead, was blowing through the competition and few teams posed a real challenge to the team.
In the fourth quarter of Game 4, he was far from it.
With their 15 point lead quickly diminishing, Durant took it upon himself to try and win the game. This was evident when he took the potential game winning shot with 1.9 seconds remaining despite being defended by three Mavericks players and despite being well behind the three point line. He was blocked and the game went into overtime with the Mavs winning 112-105.
After the game, Durant was quoted as saying “I didn’t know what else to do” when referring to that shot. But he can’t be the only one blamed, his entire team seemed like they didn’t know what to do either based on the fact that they only scored four points in overtime.
I remember seeing Durant sitting on the bench with his team during a timeout. He looked defeated. His team looked defeated. They were only down by three and had about 40 seconds left.
True superstars don’t look defeated in close games, and neither do championship teams. Even if they think they’re about to be defeated, it shouldn’t show in their body language. Instead, they should look as if they’re invincible.
Durant looked devastated and his team picked up on that. A leader can’t be letting his emotions dictate his body language or the game.
This is one of the reasons why people turned on LeBron (with a certain Decision being the major one). The way he played against Boston last year in the playoffs was uncharacteristic of a leader. He looked like he was done with the team.
But of course, LeBron has enough games like last night's Game 4 against the Bulls to prove why he's still one of the best around. And while we're talking about the Bulls/Heat series, I might as well say Derrick Rose is in the same boat as Durant. They're both gifted stars, but not ready to be superstars yet, but again, I digress.
Durant’s still young, and his team’s still young. They’re growing and learning in possibly the toughest and best way: by playing these playoff games against tough teams.
They learned from their loss against the Lakers last year and they’ll learn from their loss against the Mavs.
Unfortunately, it might take a year for all that learning to pay off.
The Thunder with Durant are on the edge of greatness, but not quite there yet. Ever since LeBron went to Miami, people have been looking to Durant as the anti-LeBron, as the guy who plays the game the way it should be played: by a player loyal to his fans and his team.
Durant was quoted as saying something else last night, “I feel upset because I let them down. I let the city down.”
That’s what I want my franchise player to be saying after a loss. Hopefully, next year, he won’t let them down.
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