By Royce Young
Pete Maravich was a five-time All-Star for the Atlanta Hawks and New Orleans Jazz. It’s indisputable – he’s one of the greatest point guards ever. He was exciting, he was talented and he was flashy. He could pass and score. He was the total package. But only one of those teams finished the season with a winning record (46-36, 1972-73). He made the team in his third year because his numbers were so gaudy that there was no way you could say no. So a precedent has been set – a great player on a bad team can go to the All-Star game.
With All-Star reserves being announced Thursday, it seems the basketball world is split on Kevin Durant. Some think he’s a year or two off, mainly because he’s on a 10-win team. Some say he’s ready now, regardless of the team’s record. Well, you can put me in camp No. 2 – he’s an All-Star now.
Both Kobe Bryant and LeBron James were All-Stars in their second season. LeBron had ridiculous numbers: 27.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 7.2 apg. How can you say no to that? But Kobe made it more or less because or hype. His team was good (lost in the Western Finals to the Jazz) but he was just getting 26 minutes a game and averaging 15.4 ppg, 3.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
Now we all know Durant’s awesome numbers. (24.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.6 apg, in case you forgot.) He’s one of just nine players that are leading their team in both points and rebounds (Chris Bosh, LeBron, Dwight Howard, Antwan Jamison, Dirk Nowitzki, Yao, Tim Duncan, Al Jefferson, Carlos Boozer). He’s in pretty good company there. He does everything for his team. He’s improved every facet of his game and is putting together one of the best seasons ever for a 20-year-old.
Forget the fact his numbers are closer to 26 points and eight rebounds since the end of November. Forget that he’s shooting 47 percent, 42 percent and 86 percent from the field, three and the free throw line. Forget that he’s clearly the best player on his team and that opponents key on him like he Jimmy Chitwood. All that aside even, he’s still and All-Star. It’s the game for the league’s best players. And KD is clearly one of them.
Look at other players having outstanding seasons who are stuck on losing teams:
PG: Devin Harris
SG: Vince Carter or Jamal Crawford
SF: Danny Granger
PF: Chris Bosh
C: Al Jefferson
And probably four or five of those guys are going to get the invitation. But what’s the difference between KD and Danny Granger, other than one point per game? Their teams both stink, but they’re both having great seasons and have elevated themselves into Elite Player Status. The book says, “Well, if he was really a great player then his team wouldn’t be so bad.” Ahem, remember Pistol Pete Maravich. Four of those five seasons his team wasn’t just bad, but like 10 and 20 games under .500 bad.
In 1991, Brad Daugherty made the team despite his team finishing 33-49. Dikembe Mutombo made his first All-Star game with his team finishing 24-58 and four of his eight All-Star appearances he played on a losing team. Mitch Richmond made six All-Star teams with the Kings while never winning more than 39 games and finishing with records like 25-57, 23-59 and 24-58. Danny Manning made it while playing on a 27-55 Clippers team. And the list could go on and on. Plenty of players have made it despite playing on a bad team. Kevin Durant shouldn’t be treated any differently. Because otherwise, how do you keep him off?
We’re not talking about MVP here. That award has to go to someone that’s winning. But All-Star? The requirement there is just be one of the top 12 players in your conference that season. And can you rip off 12 players better in the West than KD right now? I’ll wait. Go ahead. Try.
You surely can’t name three better small forwards in the West. If you stretch and move Dirk to the three, you’ve got one. That’s it. Here’s the top five leading scorers in the West at SF: Kevin Durant (24.5), John Salmons (18.6), Rudy Gay (18.5), Al Thornton (17.4) and look out, Jeff Green (16.3). For the entire league at small forward, KD is third in PER and third in scoring. Amar’e Stoudemire is starting at the three for the West. And you’re going to tell me KD doesn’t deserve to be there.
Who cares if KD said he didn’t deserve it. Keep in mind, he made that statement when the team absolutely stunk. Now that they’re .500 in the new year and no longer in Worst Team Ever contention, maybe he’s reconsidering.
Honestly, he should really be a starter, but fan voting is bad. People that have never heard of Al Jefferson are casting ballots for Kurt Rambis and David Robinson. They don’t know. They’re just going off who they assume is doing good. That’s why the top 10 vote getters at guard in the West included Jason Kidd and Tracy McGrady. It’s the way it works, but that’s why they have the coaches to rectify the misses. And here’s a good opportunity.
If Durant were on a 25-20 team, he’d be a no-doubter. Age isn’t the issue because we’ve seen plenty of 19-year-olds go. He’s not getting the attention he deserves simply because of his team. And that’s not right. Again, if we were talking Most Valuable Player, put KD at the bottom of the list with Andris Biedrins. But as for being one of the top 10 or 12 players in his conference, are you kidding me? Who really wants to see Paul Millsap grab boards and play tough defense instead of Durant shooting silky threes and coming off screens?
The coaches get to pick the reserves. Coaches are supposed to be able to evaluate talent. So by that logic, KD is a no-brainer. But then again, such coaches as Mike Dunleavy will be casting a ballot and if Dunleavy walked in a gym and saw me make three straight treys he’d probably sign me to a two-year deal. But regardless, KD is an All-Star this year. We all know he’ll have a career full of these and seven years from now and we’ll laugh when we think back to how there was even a debate. But why wait when he earned it now? He may say he doesn’t deserve it, but I guarantee you he wants it. If you take out the reason of “He plays on a bad team!” then what other reason could you hold him out for? His age? His numbers? Everything lines up. Look at the numbers, look at the players and you’ll see – Kevin Durant is an All-Star.