Who remembers the usual early season Kevin Durant – Russell Westbrook debate? The Oklahoma City Thunder, with the best offense and record in the NBA, have now won 12 games in a row, while Durant, scoring a season high 41 points in the latest win, is playing better than anyone in the league.
Everyone keeps waiting for LeBron James to take his game to another level and show everyone who the real MVP is, but for now, Durant is edging him, Carmelo Anthony and the wonderful things he’s doing in New York or the hard to judge Kobe Bryant. It’s the numbers, but it’s also more than them.
Because all the criticism thrown at Durant, the little that could be found, after the NBA finals six months ago seems to have sent him into another set of improvements. The summer with the Olympic team, training with LeBron James. Kevin Durant was great last year, and he’s even better now.
The numbers speak for themselves. We all knew he could score – averaging 27.7 points per game after scoring over 40 points for the first time this season. This is Durant’s 10th career game with at least 40 points in the regular season. Since he joined the NBA in 2007, only LeBron James, with 12 games of 40 points or more has more than Durant.
But like we said, Kevin Durant is so much more than just points, finally. His role in this defense is greatly improved. Like Larry Bird for the Celtics in the 1980’s, he’s not the best of individual defenders, but using his long arms and quick mind to intercept passing lanes makes things work great for the team and him. He scored 13 points on transition in the 100-92 win over the Hawks, another season high for him.
And there’s the rest – Durant grabbed 13 rebounds in the win and is now averaging 8.5 this season. His passing? Getting more touches now that James Harden is gone, Kevin Durant is understanding to make better use of chances and of open men. He’s looking for open teammates, instead of looking for the basket every time he gets a chance. He’s averaging 4.2 assists, to go along with his 1.4 blocks and 1.5 steals per game. MVP like numbers, MVP like players.
And the other keys to the Thunder’s success? Russell Westbrook a bit more refined, a bit more controlled. A working progress for Brooks, who should get just as much blame every time Westbrook goes off the handle. His point guard is learning to curb his shooting hunger, coming up with more assists and simply more good, simple smart plays. At the pace the Thunder are playing, seemingly a gear ahead of the rest of the NBA, just making the right call is good enough for a certain basket. Westbrook finished with 27 points against the Hawks, one of those games when the two consist of almost the entire offense. He’s averaging 21.1 points and 8.8 assists this season.
The rest of the credit goes to the defense. Kendrick Perkins doesn’t mind being the big body that rebounds, defends, steps out to pick n’ rolls and is forgotten on offense. Serge Ibaka is hard to handle and cancel out unless you play a small lineup, but few teams have that privilege of giving up on a big man. Hasheem Thabeet is a wonderful surprise after some D-League time, giving the Thunder some physical presence off the bench that was sorely missed last season.
NBA champions? It’s written somewhere. The Thunder look too talented for anyone in the West, including the Spurs, especially when you throw the two teams together in a best-of-7 series. Bumps are waiting in the road to the playoffs, but this team, at the moment, improving as they go along, seem better equipped to handle them than anyone else in the NBA.