When one thinks of true superstars in this league, many names come to mind. Names like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose invoke thoughts of true game-changers and elite forces in the best basketball league in the world.
These players all have key characteristics that have taken them to the level they have achieved. They have the ability to take over games on a whim with their ability to overpower defenders. They have the ability to blow by defenders with their speed and quickness. Their ability to score and get to the line can single-handedly win a game for their team, something that few players are able to do on multiple occasions during a season.
With those things being said, perhaps their greatest ability is to be assertive on the basketball court. Their confidence and forcefulness provide a lift to their teams, especially when down and at crunch time, that can be the key to winning or losing.
Kevin Durant, albeit still a very young 22 years old, is now considered a true superstar and one of the elite players in the league. He is a tremendous scorer that can virtually shoot over defenders even when guarded at close range. He, along with the transformation of Russell Westbrook, is the primary reason the Thunder has catapulted from cellar dwellers to powerhouses in the Western Conference.
He has been praised for his soft spirit and quiet mentality, two characteristics that are a fresh change from others in the NBA who aim to further their personal agenda or bolt their small market teams for fame elsewhere (ahem…King James of South Beach).
Even with those unique qualities, Durant still lacks one attribute that, when gained, will help put his team to the next level: assertiveness.
Durant’s lack of confidence became especially apparent during the Thunder’s 2011 NBA Playoff run, where many games were decided in the final quarter. While the Thunder were victorious in a couple of these classics (Game 4 in Memphis), they also ended up on the short end in several.
Durant’s lack of physical play and leadership mentality cost his team big time in several games, especially in the Western Conference Finals.
Game 4 of the series against Dallas was, perhaps, the worst meltdown for any team in recent memory. The game saw the veteran Mavericks come back from a 15-point deficit with less than five minutes to play to send the game into OT. Jason Kidd hit a three-pointer with 40 seconds left in OT that sent the Mavs onto victory and a 3-1 series advantage. Durant finished with 29 points and nine of the team’s 26 turnovers, including one in OT that led to Kidd’s three.
Many will still see the Thunder’s run this season as a success and something to build around for future title runs. The young guns from the southern plains have the best young nucleus in the NBA to work around and will surely be a force to be reckoned with in seasons to come. With Dallas’ old age and the departure of Phil Jackson in L.A., the Thunder’s first finals appearance could likely come as early as next season.
For that to happen though, Durant must seal himself as the assertive leader that this team needs to lead them to glory. While we all love his soft spirit and team-first mentality, he must gain the ability to take over the game when the Thunder needs him the most.
There is definitely a fine line between confidence and cockiness. Durant will never have the latter, which is a good thing, but must gain the former to ensure a future NBA championship in Oklahoma City.