Will he surpass Michael Jordan? And does it matter that he's a good guy as well as a good player?
Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), Patrick Hruby (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), and Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic) talk about the Oklahoma City Thunder phenom.
"I hope people watching the game understand that greatness is growing up in front of us right now for 23-year-old Kevin Durant."
–TNT analyst/former NBA great Reggie Miller on Wednesday night
The best offensive player that I've ever seen (with the notable exception of Michael Jordan) was too good for the NBA's best team again on Wednesday. Four years removed from his college days at the University of Texas, Kevin Durant and his Oklahoma City Thunder overwhelmed the San Antonio Spurs, who had won 20 straight games over 50 days—including the first two games of the Western Conference Finals against the Thunder—before Durant led his team to four straight victories, each more improbable than the last. Wednesday's 107-99 win in Game 6 sent the Thunder to the NBA Finals for the first time since the franchise left Seattle in 2007.
Durant was the catalyst for it all. In Game 4, the NBA scoring champion and MVP runner-up scored 18 points in the fourth quarter to key a come-from-behind win. Durant was equally brilliant in Games 5 and 6, scoring at least 20 points in the second half of each game despite constant defensive attention from the Spurs. The young superstar played all 48 minutes in Game 6, grabbed 14 rebounds and even blocked a Kawhi Leonard dunk attempt at the rim.
But what makes Durant special is his offensive ability. I've never seen a player quite like Durant on offense, and unless some boomer-generation historian wants to compare him to George Gervin, no one else has either. Durant is 6'9" and lanky, with a shooting range of up to 25 feet and a preternatural ability to score. In Game 6, he drained a three-pointer from about five feet behind the three-point line to complete an 18-point comeback for the Thunder—it was a shot that no one else in the world could make consistently, and yet it looked like second nature. Barring injury, Durant could lead the league in scoring every year for the next decade.
By all accounts, Durant is a consummate professional on the court and a gentleman off it, announcing a 2010 contract extension with the Thunder via a simple, exuberant tweet (unlike certain Decision-making superstars). LeBron James may be the best player in the NBA, but Durant is the best for the game.
Where do you stand on Durant, Patrick?