The NBA’s 30 best go-to players (#15: Kevin Durant)

10.07.09 8 years ago 22 Comments

Kevin Durant

Who do you want your offense to run through with everything on the line? Counting down 30th to 1st (one per team), I’ve ranked the League’s go-to guys…

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#15: KEVIN DURANT, Thunder

Like his partner-in-precociousness, Derrick Rose, the challenge with Kevin Durant is to not give him too much, too soon.

Challenging because, at just 21 years old with what still looks like a teenager’s body, Durant ranked sixth in the NBA in scoring last season at 25.3 points per game. Challenging because his Oklahoma City team — which is undeniably his — showed signs of promise late in the schedule and got even better over the summer. Challenging because, if you speak to KD at length, as I did this summer for a Dime cover story, you see the competitive fire and desire to be No. 1 on these kinds of lists escaping from his pores like two-a-day sweat. Challenging because, well, he’s just that f’n good.

Durant may have more natural scoring ability than anyone — yes, anyone — in the NBA. But those skills that seem like his birthright overshadow the real reason why he’s on pace to run this League: He also has a ton of learned scoring ability. Durant couldn’t drop 25 a game with an entire defense planned around him if it was as simple as throwing a ball into a basket on instinct. He does it because he’s a student of the game, with the work ethic of a Shaolin monk. KD soaks up on-court lessons from colleagues and coaches, and studies team-building tactics from proven winners like Tim Duncan. Vegas or the Virgin Islands, he works out when he’s on vacation. And I’d take an educated guess that, if there were no basketballs at said getaway, he’d do like Shep in Above the Rim and spend the weekend playing ball without a ball. Durant would be good if he didn’t try — which means he’ll be great because he tries so hard.

You have to begin with the jumper, his primary weapon that he can unleash from short to long-range from multiple angles. It’s the foundation of an arsenal that allows him to get points in the post, on the drive, and at the line. Although naturally humble, Durant even admits he can score with anybody. His areas in need of improvement, most notably rebounding and defense, don’t factor as much into the go-to guy equation, but playing a more complete game will put KD’s team in better position to be competitive, where he can then show his crunch-time brilliance more often and on bigger stages.

Tellingly, Durant’s most standout clutch moments last year were attached to OKC losses. Twice against the Nuggets, once in January and again in February, Durant hit a go-ahead bucket in the final seconds — only to be trumped by a Carmelo Anthony knockout punch in the end. Against New Orleans, KD scored 21 of his season-high 47 points in the fourth quarter, until Chris Paul had the last word with a game-winning shot.

And that’s mainly what holds Durant back for now. Talented as he is, you can’t be considered an elite go-to player when your team wins 23 games out of 82. A top-percentile player doesn’t allow his team to go 4-29 before New Year’s Day, as the Thunder did last season. Yeah, I know he can’t do it all by himself, but that’s how basketball works. Individual greatness can’t be fully realized until you have a strong team around you that makes for black-and-white results.

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16. Gilbert Arenas
17. Derrick Rose
18. Chris Bosh
19. Andre Iguodala
20. Tracy McGrady
21. Baron Davis
22. Michael Redd
23. Devin Harris
24. Kevin Martin
25. Al Jefferson
26. O.J. Mayo
27. Stephen Jackson
28. Nate Robinson
29. Boris Diaw
30. Rip Hamilton

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