2011 NBA Playoffs

Is Kevin Durant Too Nice To Be An Elite Player?

Kevin Durant is good at basketball.

Scratch that. Kevin Durant is very good at basketball. What else can you say about a guy who just wrapped up his second straight scoring title and is considered among the league’s preeminent players when it comes to putting the ball in the basket?

You could say he wasn’t involved in situations when the Thunder needed him. You could say he deferred to Russell Westbrook a little too much. You could say he allowed himself to get frustrated late in games or whenever he was forced to deal with Shane Battier. In short, you could say he’s still learning how to be an elite player.

Statistically, there was nothing wrong with Durant’s play during the Memphis series. He’s not the sole reason Oklahoma City won the series, but they most certainly would have lost it without him. Who’s going to argue against a 26.4 points and 9.1 rebounds average over a grueling, seven-game series? How do you beef with a 39 point, 13-of-25 shooting performance, that leads a team to the Western Conference Finals for the first time ever? It’s

Kevin Durant - Elite NBA Player?

about more than numbers, though. It’s about when he takes his shots, when he gets others involved and when he decides to get out of the way altogether.

Otherwise, how do you reconcile Durant’s stats with the argument Russell Westbrook stole as many headlines as he did late-game scoring opportunities during the Memphis series? How do you mesh that with stories that

there was growing dissension among the team’s two stars – no matter how much everyone involved denies that it was an issue? Or questions about whether the two could co-exist longterm?

The short answer is that Kevin Durant is too much of a nice guy. Every story about Durant involves some act of basketball or real-world generosity. When Durant referred to Chris Bosh as a “fake tough guy” earlier in the

season, it was one of the rare times when the young man showed any real anger about something that happened on the floor.

Otherwise, frustration has been his modus operandi. It’s the frustration that spilled over into post-game interviews when he was handcuffed by the Lakers in last season’s playoffs. It’s also the frustration that so obviously showed on his face as he was being counseled and consoled on the sidelines by Maurice Cheeks during OKC’s eventual triple-overtime win in Game Four.

It’s been easy to lay the blame at the feet of Russell Westbrook. It would have been hard to fathom at the start of the Memphis series that he would have out-shot Durant for the entirety of the series (142 to 136). But it’s hard to completely fault a guy who is visibly doing everything in his power to help his team win. Maybe some of the fault lies with head coach Scott Brooks. Yet all he can do is call the play. It’s up to the players on the floor to execute.

Eventually, if Kevin Durant is upset about not getting the ball or not getting shots in key situations, Kevin Durant will have to find ways to fix that. It’s what made so much of the difference in Game Seven. Of the 25 shots he took, eight came in the first quarter to help the Thunder run out to an early lead. Eight more came in the third when Oklahoma City extended to a 14-point advantage to put the game away.

Compare that to the now infamous Game Four when Durant took nine shots total in the fourth quarter and three overtimes. In fact, he went 8 minutes and 44 seconds of game action (stretching from 5:56 remaining in the fourth quarter to 2:12 of the first overtime) with nothing more than a pair of free throws. Westbrook had six shots in that same stretch – including an off-balance attempt at a game-winner. It’s hard to imagine Kobe Bryant or LeBron James going through a similar run without someone in their respective locker rooms hearing about it after the game.

There’s nothing wrong with being a good guy. As a sports fan, most of us wish that athletic ability and high character were doled out in matching amounts. But being a nice guy away from the court doesn’t mean you have to be deferential on it. For as much as people have enjoyed Shaquille O’Neal‘s fun-loving behavior in whatever city he’s played, when Shaq laced ’em up in his prime, there was little that would stand in the way of him dominating the ball (except perhaps Kobe Bryant during the 2004 Finals against Detroit, but I digress).

Sooner or later, Durant will need to cultivate that on-court tough guy mentality if he wants to elevate himself from very good to great.

And who knows? Maybe the nifty backpacks Durant sported in post-game press conferences belies a fire that burns inside. There’s little doubt that he wants to get to the mountaintop. The question is whether he’s willing to demand to be the one that leads his team there.


4 Responses to “Is Kevin Durant Too Nice To Be An Elite Player?”

  1. guys only 22, give him some time and i think he’ll mature into a great leader, no prob with being a nice guy, hakeem was, eventually he will understand he needs to be more assertive and aggresive in game. he’s much better off screens at the moment then iso, so you could argue that westbrook isn’t feeding him enough or the plays just arent there.

    regardless though, i agree, no way can you let russell westbrook shoot more shots then you in a series though.

    Posted by mzez | May 17, 2011, 8:43 pm
  2. Marcas, are you serious? Durant does it all without mugging for the cameras and throwing his team under the bus and you gripe about him being too nice? You’d complain about bathroom tissue not being tough enough on the crap on your butt. Go learn how to be a reporter or start writing for the National Enquirer.

    Posted by 4 Deuce | May 18, 2011, 8:24 pm
  3. I think the dunk over Haywood proved that Durant is tough on the court! Doesn’t matter how nice he is off the court hes lethal on the court, and its the coach’s job to sit Westbrook’s ass on the bench like he did all 4th quarter and let KD run the show. Okay Harden ran the show in the 4th but you know what I mean.

    Posted by CELTICS | May 20, 2011, 7:14 am
  4. Being nice is definitely one of the issues with Kevin Durant in my opinion. The bigger issue is that he doesn’t really have an offensive game yet. Yes he is a great scorer but he can’t create his own shot like LeBron, Wade, and Carmelo. Carmelo/Dirk are the best at creating their own shots but Durant still needs a ‘point guard’ to create openings for him. Once he develops more moves he will be an offensive juggernaut.

    Posted by Eric | May 29, 2011, 7:40 pm

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