The Incomparable Kevin Durant

Barking CarnivalAnalyst IFebruary 23, 2010

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 20:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives to the basket against Danilo Galinari #8 of the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on February 20, 2010 in New York, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Incomparable in every sense.

The above was not atypical. Another day at the office.

First, consider Durant’s eminence in terms of team impact and statistics:

The Oklahoma City Thunder have now won nine games in row, good for a 33-21 record in the toughest division, in the toughest conference, in the entire NBA. Place the Thunder in the East (they are 17-6 against Eastern Conference teams) and they’re playing the Cavaliers and LeBron in the Eastern Conference Finals for the right to face LA or Denver for all of the marbles.

As a 60-win team. As a team whose best five players average 21.6 years old.

Alas, they are in the West and with 28 games left in the regular season, the OKC are the Western Conference five seed, only three games out of second place. Do you think Utah, Dallas, or San Antonio wants any piece of the Thunder in a first round series?

They were 23-59 last year. They’ll go around 50-32 this year. A 27-game swing.

And Durant’s numbers?

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29.8 ppg, 7.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 88% from the FT line, 48% from the field, 38% from 3. Age 21.

Most nights, Durant gets his against double teams as the Thunder have no other shooters on the court.

He’s one of the best 10 three point shooters in the league, he takes people off of the dribble at will, he has a sophisticated mid-range game eclipsed only by Kobe, he posts people up whenever he likes at 15 feet in, and he does a very credible James Worthy impersonation on the break and on an open baseline.

Are we talking about potentially the most complete offensive player, as a combination of athletic talent, ability to get off his shot, clutchitude, and raw shooting ability ever?

Certainly now. And we’re still waiting for someone to try and take his H-O-R-S-E title.

The most extraordinary thing about watching Durant is that all of his points come within the rhythm of the game; they just happen. Nothing forced, nothing selfish. His scoring just...is.

You may as well try to stop the seasons from changing.

Most crucially, he never disappears when the big shot needs taking. And he’s ummm...21 freaking years old.

His defense, once a developmental area when the Thunder were dumb enough to ask him to guard shooting guards on the perimeter, is now well above average with his permanent move to small forward (with Sefolosha and Westbrook dismantling opposing backcourts on D) and the Thunder are one of the best five defensive teams in the league.

When you’re an elite defense and Durant logs 40 minutes a game, it’s hard to argue that the guy is Kelly Tripucka out there.

Bill Simmons of ESPN asks that you consider this about the Thunder:

His team is improbably headed for 48-50 wins in a loaded Western Conference, with a top four that’s 21, 21, 23 and 20 years old, without anyone averaging even 6.4 rebounds or 1.1 blocks a game. And Durant has scored nearly as many points as his best two teammates combined. I could go on and on. Other than LeBron/Cleveland, Durant means more to that team than anyone else means to any other 2010 team. You can’t tell me differently .

By the way, Sefolosha—the veteran —and OKC’s lockdown defensive specialist is all of 25 year old. If you can find a better absurdly young team in NBA history, you’re the Herodotus of NBA lore.

What makes Durant so compelling is that he’s also incomparable in the truest sense: he’s without comparison. There’s simply no other player like him. Ever. I don’t mean that he’s the best of all time, though feel free to check with me in 2025 on that; what I mean is his game is without precedent. Spare me the T-Mac comparison.

Maybe with a heavy helping of Larry Bird, a dash of Dale Ellis, George Gervin’s glide, and Marcus Camby’s wingspan. Like LeBron, this specific type of player has never existed in the history of basketball. Novelty—the New Athlete—is something I find particularly compelling.

They push the boundaries of what we imagine to be possible. Jesse Owens. Jim Thorpe. Alexander Karelin. Jerry Rice. 19 year old Mike Tyson.

Along with Novelty is the appeal of Purity. Ted Williams swinging a bat, Kevin Durant shooting a 20 footer off of a screen. It’s all the same energy.

Michael Jordan, the greatest player ever, was not New. He was just Great.

He had rough antecedents (David Thompson, Oscar Robertson) and comparable successors (Kobe Bryant). He was just them +5-10 percent with a competitiveness that made Darwin blush.

Magic Johnson was New. 6'9" point guards who could start their own break, play every position on the floor (including center), and give you championship leadership and poise 15 boards, 15 assists or 25 points depending on what you needed that night still aren’t really found.

Beyond purity, novelty, and my other mystical incantations, what is Durant’s ultimate value?

Let’s engage in a very simple hypothetical exercise. A forward looking statement beyond the snapshot of 2010. You’re a NBA GM. One with a fat wallet and a good bit of luck.

1. The entire NBA goes into free agency post lockout in 2011.
2. There is a draft to determine first right to sign.
3. Every player on the planet is thrown into the mix: college, pro, international.
4. You’ve won the No. 1 pick.
5. Who do you pick? Who will you build your team around for the next decade?

Now, most of you have said Greg Oden.

That’s the wrong answer. There are only two correct even remotely plausible answers: LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Kobe? Too old. Wade? Upside realized. Dwight Howard? Too interested in being good rather than great. Carmelo? Sure. Right around the time Durant shows up in a Stop Snitching video.

Think about that. Kevin Durant is the second most coveted player in world basketball—at age 21.

What will he be at 28?


This article was written by Scipio Tex of Barking Carnival

Follow Barking Carnival on Twitter: @BarkingCarnival


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