From a player perspective, Durant's case was availed as the most valuable player in all of the NBA. For the Thunder, their maturation into a perennial powerhouse will be defined by their response to defeat at the hands of a superior, more mature Mavs team.
Despite being gifted with a hell of a wingman in former Bruin and lightning rod, Russell Westbrook, fans and coaches alike were made aware of the duo's inconsistencies. Every game Durant outscored Westbrook, the team won in the postseason. Each game Westbrook tried to be "tha man," the team fell apart and lost a crucial game.
And though it is unfair to place the blame on Westbrook, who without question rounded into a perennial top-tier point in all of the league, it is fair to make one assertion in regards to Kevin Durant: Give him the damn ball.
The 6'10" swing is unlike any player in hoops. His long-reaching arms, above average vertical and step-back jump shot make him an unguardable opponent for even the best defenders. Follow that with impeccable work ethic and a commitment to Thunder basketball, and the city of OKC has been given a once-in-a-lifetime future Hall of Famer.
Each and every year, the two-time scoring champ and two-time All-Star has matured a facet of his already superior game. Drafted second overall to the then Seattle Supersonics in 2007, Durant came into the NBA a gunner out of Texas.
In Rick Barnes' run 'n' gun style of play, Durant who had one of thee most amazing frosh seasons of anyone in basketball history, was used to one, being the man, and two, a frenetic high-shot total offense, that allowed him 30-plus shots a night.But the NBA is different. In a league made of past college greats and ascendant NBA stars, the Darwinian nature of pro basketball can be terrorizing to even the most confident college players.
Durant emerged early in his career, but far too often, sat back in the three-point region and gunned.
Early in his rookie season, the rail-thin swing looked more like a poor man's Tracy McGrady than a now, George Gervin. His lowly 43 percent from the floor and uninspiring 4.4 rebounds questioned whether or not Durant had it in him to truly be the one of the greatest this league has ever seen.
But lay those questions aside because a change of scenery seemed all the star needed.
In his sophomore season, Durant outlived what usually befuddles second-year stars: The sophomore slump, a season in which NBA elites pick up on your overused right-hand dribble and shut a scorer down.
Just ask Brandon Jennings about that overused left-hand dribble.
Durant's numbers soared, his point totals increased by nearly five points a night and his rebounds were most impressive, jumping to 6.5 a game, proving he was tuned in on the defensive side of the ball.
As the Thunder grew, so did Durant. The last two years, both playoff-bound Thunder teams have seen Durant continue to increase his rebounding, bulk his extremely light frame, shoot wiser, more affordable shots, get to the free-throw line and take on more of a leadership role on the sidelines.Last year's postseason proved this assertion.
In a much needed game against the Mavs in the Western Finals, the hot-tempered Westbrook derailed the team with a hilarity of off-footed jump shots and crazy, out-of-control floaters. As cameras panned in on the Thunder sideline, Durant could be seen setting Westbrook straight.
Give him the damn ball.
Scott Brooks then proved his worth as an up-and-coming coach by benching Westbrook and inserting into the lineup, Erick Maynor. Maynor got Durant the ball and the team responded, winning their only game of the series.
As the team continues to evolve its identity, so will Durant take on a role as a true superstar. The x-factor will be whether or not Westbrook can demote his shot to Durant and learn his own skill set as a fast-footed, high-tempo point.
If both can gel in unison, a continued maturation of James Harden and Serge Ibaka takes place, it is fair to say the Thunder are a championship-like team.
Unlike most, the Thunder are a defensive-minded group. A group which shuts down its opponent with hard-nosed defense led by guys like Thabo Sefolosha, James Harden, Ibaka and team captain, Kendrick Perkins.
This is important because a team which scores less glorifies its lone scorers all the more.
Unlike a team like the Lakers, who score at will with players such as Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, or even the Heat, who though defensively sure, boast three superstars in LeBron, Wade and Bosh, a team like the Thunder is built around one or two guys.And considering, Durant and the team are now aware of what direction to take in the postseason, it is likely Durant could celebrate his first MVP season of his career.
Give him the damn ball.