Will 2012 Be the Year of Kevin Durant?
Kevin Durant is officially a beast. We can all agree on that. But what we cannot all agree on is his place as a scorer in the NBA. Some people don’t even think he’s the best player on his own team (not referring to you, Thabo Sefolosha). Let’s take a look at Mr. Durant’s short season and where he may or may not end up.
As of this writing, the Oklahoma City Thunder are undefeated on the heels of KD’s early 27.4 PPG, second only to LeBron James’ gaudy 29.6 PPG. Durant’s most dramatic points of the season came on a buzzer-beating game-winning deep 3 against the defending champion Dallas Mavericks. Perhaps the most impressive part of that performance is that Durant recognized he missed an assignment on the defensive end, and was determined to make amends. That’s the kind of player who brings in banners, and I think Durant will raise a few before his career is all said and done.
The West is a-changin’, and with that recognition comes a pretty strong power shift. Once the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade was hijacked by David Stern, the West became an open field. The Lakers are getting old, Phil Jackson and Lamar Odom are gone, and they now have a pissed off Pau Gasol (who’s very piss-offable). The Mavericks are not looking like a team that’s primed to repeat in the early going (getting smacked down on the night you raise your flag – never a good sign), and the Clippers appear to be a season or two away from making real noise. Could we be on the verge of a Thunder vs. Heat championship run that rivals Lakers vs. Celtics?
Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. In the interim, a few additional questions regarding Durant come to mind:
1.) 30 Points Per game?: The first question I asked myself (hey, it’s my column) was whether Kevin Durant could finish the season with a scoring average of over 30 PPG? Well, he’s already done it once in 2009-2010, when he won his first of two straight scoring titles. Perhaps as impressively that year, Durant was the first person to average over 30 while playing all 82 games since Michael Jordan accomplished that feat in 1995-1996. Pretty good company to be in, and I’m not referring to the fact that Jordan just got engaged to a model.
Last year KD’s scoring dropped significantly to 27.7 PPG as Russell Westbrook took over some more of the scoring. So far this year Westbrook’s points are down as James Harden has taken some more of the burden over, but that will probably fix itself over the season. Some people think there’s a bit of an “alpha dog” issue with OKC – but I don’t buy into it. Westbrook is a great basketball player, but Durant will be an ALL-TIME great. For as long as their together, Westbrook’s career numbers will be tied to the fact that he gets to feed #35 and gets a few more open shots because he’s on the floor. End of controversy.
So back to my original question – will Durant finish with 30 PPG? I actually think he will. Durant is playing out of his mind right now, and the shortened season allows an easier path to maintain such a high average. That being said – the schedule is a grind with so few days off, but Durant is young and rarely gets hurt – expect a huge scoring season out of him.
2.) Scoring Title?: The obvious follow-up question is whether Durant will win the scoring title in 2012? As I mentioned earlier, right now he’s trailing LeBron who has already proven that he could win a scoring title (albeit in Cleveland). So let’s say LeBron, who is clearly on a mission, is Durant’s biggest competition for the scoring title (Sorry, ‘Melo). While Durant may lose points to Westbrook and even Harden, LeBron will lose more to Wade and Bosh. LeBron also has not attempted a single 3-pointer this season, which means Durant has a scoring opportunity that James does not. Finally, James’ role was defined by the fact that Friday night he was throwing the inbounds pass to Wade for a critical game winner rather than taking the shot himself– that spoke volumes to me. Durant wins the scoring title.
3.) Championship?: But does Durant win the only title that should matter – the one that comes with the Larry O’Brien trophy (and not the trophy tattooed on Jason Terry)? Durant’s future looks better than Kendrick Perkins at the beach, but I still think the Thunder is a year away from a nice run of Western Conference titles. They are the favorites, but I see them falling just short to a more veteran team who’s healthy due to the longer off-season. What can I say – I like an underdog. That being said, I’m a hypocrite because I think nobody beats the Heat in the end.
For a guy who plays so much Xbox, Kevin Durant is a MAN. Let’s see where he can take it over the next 62+ games.