Kevin Durant is one of the two best players in the NBA, next and just a bit beneath LeBron James, and just might be the best offensive player in the league, just above the MVP and someone who simply won’t quit being a great scorer, Kobe Bryant. He’s nearly 24, making it very reasonable for the Oklahoma City Thunder to expect that he, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the young crew around them are even better next season.
You should reach your peak at, what, 27? 28? 30? When the accumulated knowledge, experience and added skills outweigh the degrading in your physical skills by enough to make you the best you’ve ever been. Young teams don’t neccesarily mean that you’re going to win the NBA title. In fact, you usually need a veteran squad to win it.
But it’s a matter of who’s young and who’s old on your team, and whether or not your key players are at or around their peak ability. For the Thunder, it’s safe to argue that it’s very possible that their best players, three of them dream-team members, and two more that form one of the best big men duos in the NBA, at least when it comes to defense, still haven’t reached their best.
And above James Harden’s potential as the greatest offensive threat to come off the bench in the history of the NBA; above Serge Ibaka’s talent to be more than just a very talented shot blocker and actually become a post presence to be reckoned with every game when it comes to offense; beyond Russell Westbrook’s attempt to match his league-best athletic ratings at the point guard position with his sometime unintelligent brand of basketball; there’s always one player – Kevin Durant, and the thought of how good he can get.
Because it’s how far Durant goes and takes this team that matters. Three consecutive NBA scoring titles don’t mean a thing to great players. Those who know they’ll be measured on the greatness scales only when it comes to the titles they’ve won, throwing them into the argument of the greatest ever. Durant has that potential, but the NBA finals showed just how far he is, not in numbers, than LeBron James.
The Olympics experience may have rubbed off on him. In the final against Spain it was Durant who was simply shooting like a mad man in the final quarter, hitting insane shots, keeping team USA enough of a distance away from the Spanish team. Despite the superstars around him, it was Durant who took it to another level, with LeBron James playing somewhat of a second fiddle in his point forward role.
And that’s what Durant needs to combine. It’s not enough to be the finest scorer in the land. It’s about improving his defense to a point it that it actually matters in a game, although some can argue that Dirk Nowitzki proved greatness and the ability to win the title without ever becoming an above average defender. Still, the ideal is for Durant to put on a bit of weight, and become more than just long arms that are useful for steals.
And it’s the ability to bring a team together, and take over a game when it matters the most. He’s shown it at every stage in the playoffs except the finals. He’s shown it with the national team in the world championships in 2010 and the Olympics in 2012. Three months ago, against a better LeBron James in the NBA finals, Durant took a step back. He didn’t play badly, he just wasn’t great.
And that’s where the Thunder need Durant to reach – greatness, not as much in the regular season where there’s plenty of talent to spread the scoring around, as in the biggest moment, the biggest stage. Being a Finals MVP, and being the player that simply rises above the rest with more than his scoring in the final series of the season.
That’s what the Thunder need and expect from Durant to become. Question is, how much room is there in him to keep growing and expand his basketball abilities. From everything we’ve seen from him so far, the full realization of his potential has yet to have been met.