I’ve encouraged fans to write in and be part of this blog and I got this awesome email about Kevin Durant the other day about how far he’s come and how far he could go. Really good stuff. Do yourself a favor and take 10 minutes and read it.
By John Mietus (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Not often in a lifetime does an unconventional male sporting hero come along. One whom can be defined as a true genius of his trade, a marvel of modern engineering and competitive spirit. Only a few names come to mind as I think of the sporting achievements of men in my lifetime: Gretzky, Federer, Tiger, Larry Bird, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, men whose mental genius outweighs even their physical capability.
Take Gretzky, the slowest skater, perennially on his championship Edmonton Oiler teams. Bird, the worst run/jump athlete to ever star in the NBA, Roger Federer whose thorough dissection courtesy of David Foster Wallace reads like a manual into the mind of the greatest unusual tennis champion of all time. What cannot be measured in athletics is the mind’s ability to process and react within a fraction of a second, finding the razor’s edge margin between victory and defeat, and allowing the finest of the champions to stand out not only for their physical prowess but also their mental acuity. I hesitate to even use the term “mental” as if this type of genius is something that can be taught or learned. It’s a gift. And so few have it that it remains infinitely recognizable, even in a sea of sports culture. Even within the confines of statistics and SportsCenter highlights, even within a world of critics and haters, it stands out.
I saw it in a young 17 year old Argentine making his European club football (soccer) debut with Barcelona a few years back. I remember watching Lionel Messi perform for less than five minutes and thinking, “By god, he’s going to be the best player in the world some day.” It’s an intrinsic ability to read sporting situations and react accordingly at the pinnacle of one’s judgment that set Messiover the top, as it had Bird, Tiger, and the aptly named Magic Johnson in the past. It’s in many ways a magical quality, difficult to even define.
Those that talk about professional sports don’t always understand the most fundamental aspect of the sports they discuss: The raw ability necessary to compete at the highest level is oneof the fundamental deciders as to who will move on and who will get passed over. It’s human nature to select the biggest, fastest, strongest warriors they can find in whatever their discipline happens to be. A man must fit certain natural ability requirements before he can even hope to make inroads into the professional sporting arena. And that’s where guys like Messi, etc. are such remarkable figures in sport. Their natural ability would barely make them passable players in a pickup game. There are certainly more impressive physical specimens out roaming the playing fields. My college basketball coach used to talk about guys who passed the “look test”, meaning that you took one look at them and figured they could play.
But interestingly enough, often the look test proves faulty, you really cannot judge a book by its cover, you never know who will make the best teammate or has the will to become a true champion. However, it is true that in most cases the athletes that excel are the ones predestined to the physical attributes necessary for their sport. If Larry Bird were 6’5″ tall he would not have been an NBA player. But at 6’9″ he was able to overcome his lack of run/jump ability and became one of the greatest players in the history of the game. Even at 6’9″ it took an inordinate amount of athletic genius to overcome a lack of physical ability.
Anyway long story short, the news media now is drooling all over itself to crown Lebron James the next maestro of the hardwood. He’s a physical freak, 6’9″ tall and weighing roughly 260 lbs. of sinewy muscle. He’s a force of nature in the open court, taking the ball hard to the basket in ways that perhaps only Dr. J or Darryl Dawkins in their prime could have matched. He’s a miniature Shaquille O’Neal, but with skills and court vision. He’s a monster to defend and nobody seems to be able to stop him. But he’s not a true genius of the game. He’s built exactly for what he’s been able to do. He’s taken his rightful place at the top of the league in terms of statistics, team success, and media appreciation. But he’s not going to ever be Larry Bird. He doesn’t have it. And in the next year or so he’s going to be slowly overtaken by a young man who does have it. That man’s name is Kevin Durant and he toils in obscurity, playing for a miserable team in Oklahoma City, a city that didn’t have a professional basketball team mere months ago.
Durant’s particulars are that he’s 6’9 or 6’10” tall, tall enough to be considered for the NBA, but he comes with a wispy frame more suited for a Masai warrior than a professional athlete. His arms are spaghetti strands that drape down past his bony kneecaps. His narrow shoulders slope down into a tiny waist. His oversized feet hang off him like Christmas stockings, in size 18 shoes. He’s nothing spectacular to look at from a physical perspective, and he’s not going to be able to change his body type. What Durant has is a certain je ne sais quois to his game that nobody else in the league has. He’s barely 20 years old, with the body of a 15-year old, and yet he’s absolutely destroying people on a nightly basis in the most competitive basketball league in the world.
At 20 years old, in his second year in the league Durant averages 25 pts. 7 rebounds and 3 assists per game. Those numbers would be higher if Durant had not been played out of position by his less than intelligent first coach P.J. Carlesimo. Carlesimo chose to put Durant out of position at shooting guard where he would be kept on the perimeter and not close to the basket for most offensive and defensive possessions. Carlesimo’s firing brought in new coach Scott Brooks who promptly moved Durant to his natural small forward slot and reaped immediate statistical benefits. In the last two months Durant is up to around 28 pts, 9 rebounds, and 3.5 assists. Those stats compare favorably to Lebron’s 27, 7 and 7 in his second year in the league.
However, these numbers tell only a small fraction of the story of Durant. As opposed to the wrecking ball power of Lebron, Durant is a wiry assassin, picking his spots judiciously and much more adept at scoring the ball in a half-court offense than Lebron. Durant has continuously come up with clutch baskets during his two year career, hitting multiple game winners even as a rookie, and can be relied upon in the clutch to both take and make the big shot. Lebron does not have that same natural ability to shoot/score the basketball and in clutch situations often must pass to teammates for the last shot. That is not really a knock on Lebron, he’s making the right decisions time and time again, opting to pass out of double teams and share the ball for higher percentage shots, but it does show how Durant can pass Lebron as a player in the coming years: By being more like Michael Jordan than Lebron. Lebron doesn’t have the killer instinct of Durant, and it cannot be developed.
The description of Durant on FreeDarko.com, one of the premier basketball blogs on the web, further expounds upon Durant’s special characteristics:
“There is perhaps no greater evidence of (professionalism) than the rise of Kevin Durant. Durant’s mild-mannered off the court, but on it has a phantasmic bloodlust that’s equal parts sneaky, vicious, and just plain mysterious.”
“Durant goes to the rim stronger, faster and more insistent than we’d thought possible, while retaining all the sleek, slippery qualities that define his movements on the court. He rebounds, sometimes with a force bordering on outrage, and sets up teammates with tough passes. And on defense, there’s determination if not always results, and feats that use his length to its fullest.”
Durant is quite simply, special. He’s already passed up the vast majority of NBA players in value to a team at the tender age of 20 years old. According to HoopsDaily.com, Durant ranks sixth in overall value to a franchise behind 1. Lebron, 2. Chris Paul, 3. Dwight Howard, 4. Dwyane Wade and 5. Kobe Bryant. He’s younger than all of these players by a minimum of three years. The beginning of his prime is seven years away as he adds strength to his frame and experience in game situations. There is no ceiling that can fully capture the potential of Kevin Durant at this point. Had the Portland Trailblazers selected him No. 1 in the 2007 NBA draft instead of Greg Oden, they would currently be a championship contender with a ten year window for winning multiple trophies.
Enjoy Durant this year and prepare to see a whole lot of him in the future.