When Kevin Durant was younger, someone probably asked him what he wants to do when he grows up. ‘A star in the NBA’ was probably his answer. But who would have guessed he’d be on the best team in the league and the NBA’s best player during certain stretches, yet almost the unanimous pick for being the number 2 player right now, always a step behind LeBron James?
The hunger and drive within Durant continue to push him and his team, now with a healthy Russell Westbrook, further and further. Durant is averaging 28.1 points, adding 8 rebounds, 4.9 assists while shooting 49% from the field. He’s got the all-around numbers for a second consecutive season. He’s got the efficiency. He blocks and steals more than LeBron James. But somehow, no one is giving him that crown.
It has do to with the fact that champions need to lose their title before someone else picks up the slack, especially when its two conescutive titles, with two MVP awards, and two Finals MVP awards. LeBron James might be “only” averaging 25.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game, but he’s also shooting a center-like 59.5% from the field as if he’s a player who spends the entire game shooting from five feet or less. Unlike Durant, there’s no rush to prove anything to anyone. Not anymore.
Looking back at the difference between the Miami Heat of 2011 to that of 2012, the ability to finally understand who is the team’s leader was crucial in getting over whatever held James and his team, winning the NBA title for the first time (it was a second for Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, just so you know). James stepped up as the number one player, and there were no more questions about it. Chris Bosh turned into an upgraded role player, completely giving up on his numbers in order to provide the Heat with the player they needed him to be, not the player he could be when all his offensive potential is on display.
Durant? He has Russell Westbrook on his team. A blessing and a flaw all at once. Regular seasons aren’t the same as what happens in April, May and June. Russell Westbrook missed out on that last year after three games against the Rockets, but it’s easy to see in certain games, especially the ones in which the Thunder lose in the end, that there’s going to be a problem. A team that doesn’t know who her number one player is and worse – there’s no actual acceptance from Westbrook that he should pave the way for Durant when it’s going to be a season and a title on the line doesn’t really provide those hoping for the Thunder to be NBA champions with plenty of optimism.
When the Oklahoma City Thunder under Scott Brooks began making the playoffs, everyone declared this team as a group that will pickup quite a few NBA titles along the way. What went wrong? Nothing, and that might be the most frustrating thing about it. The Thunder reached the NBA finals as the favorites, with home court advantage, but Durant was just good, nothing else. A year later James Harden was no longer with them, but the team won more games than ever before (60). Westbrook getting injured in the first round took care of that title hope.
Now? It feels like the Thunder keep moving forward as Westbrook and Durant continue to evolve as individual players, good enough to keep the Thunder as the best (or close to that) in the Western conference and maybe the league. Will it work?
Looking at how Miami fixed their issues, it’s going to be about Brooks finally figuring out how to coach in a game instead of letting his players run wild. Dwyane Wade had no problem taking a step back when LeBron James needed the space and the spotlight. Kevin Durant will finally escape his ‘number 2’ cage if Westbrook is humble enough and smart enough to do the same.