Kevin Durant is the third best player in the NBA. Right now. Durant is on one of the greatest hot streaks in the history of the NBA and has shown no signs of slowing down. If given the choice to start their franchise over, any NBA General Manager in his right mind would, after LeBron, pick the 21-year old Durantula.
Durant’s greatness was on full display when the Oklahoma City Thunder hosted the New York Knicks on January 11, one of the few times I have been able to watch Durant for a full game. While Durant calmly scored 30 points, his offense was not what stood out. Halfway through the first quarter, Danilo Gallinari received a pass on the far baseline and stood wide open. Thinking there was no one within 10 feet of him, Gallinari eyed the basket, lifted off the ground, and promptly had his lunch stuffed by Durant. He came out of nowhere, swatting the ball into the third row while Gallinari stood there dumbfounded. Gallinari, the Knicks’ best shooter and “future,” finished 0 for 7 from the field with zero points in 32 minutes. Not a bad defensive performance from Durant, a guy who critics said was not strong enough for the NBA.
Durant is currently on an absolute tear, scoring over 25 points in 22 straight games, easily besting LeBron’s previous record for a player under the age of 22, and there is no end in sight for the Durantula. Durant is 21 years old, 6’9″, 230 lbs. and arguably the best shooter and most proficient scorer in the NBA. Take Monday night’s performance, when he casually dropped 45 points, going 16 for 21 from the field. While he may lack the flash, ink and muscles that have turned LeBron into an icon, Durant possesses a ridiculously smooth game and always seems to be completely at ease on the court. His hand is always cool.
At times, Durant seems to glide as smoothly as Johnny Weir, navigating his way to monster game after monster game. There are also the moments when Durant, knowing his outside shot is feared, pump fakes, blows by them and brings the ruckus to the basket. If Durant becomes a little more greedy and a little more nasty (he’s taking just under 20 shots a game), he has a legitimate chance to average 40 points over the course of a season—soon. Durant will become the first player since Michael Jordan, who averaged 37.1 points per game in his third season, to approach 40 points per game. For Durant, the sky is the limit.
Durant’s progress during his first three years in the NBA has been eerily similar to LeBron’s, to the point where their averages this year are virtually the same, aside from LeBron’s assist total. This is no fault of Durant’s—he doesn’t need to control the ball as much as LeBron thanks to Russell Westbrook. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of Durant’s third campaign in the NBA is that his three point totals are actually down this year. He’s only shooting 37.1 percent from behind the arc (compared to 48.8 percent overall). Durant’s shot is so pure and so repetitive that this number can only go up, this year and beyond. But here’s the real kicker for Durant: he’s getting to the free throw line almost 10 times per game, almost three more attempts per game than last year. Durant has learned that his outside shot is a dual edged sword. If defenders overplay his shot, Durant uses his deceptively quick first step to blow by them, get to the hoop and either stuff it home or get to the line.
And the scary part: Durant could end up with more rings, and a bigger legacy than LeBron. Slow down. Take a deep breath. Kevin Durant has a shot to have more success in the NBA throughout his career. LeBron will go down as the best athlete to ever play in the NBA, hands down. The guy is built like an NFL tight end with the speed of a gazelle and the lift of Carl Lewis. But Durant has age, time and a supreme supporting cast on his side. At 21, he is four years younger than LeBron. Assuming they each play for 18 years (until the age of 35), that gives Durant, including this year, 15 postseason chances to LeBron’s 11.
The Western Conference, full of aging stars, is set up to be at Durant’s mercy. Kobe, while still the best finisher in the NBA, is clearly in the latter part of his prime. Steve Nash and the Suns are fading and Dirk and Tim Duncan are not getting any younger. The East has, assuming the young parts stay put in the next few years, more rising star power. Aside from Memphis and Portland, the elite in the West are either old or financially screwed (see: New Orleans, Houston). With Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green and James Harden, Durant and the Thunder have the necessary pieces in place to become a legitimate dynasty in a few years.
I realize that while Durant’s Thunder may only be on the cusp of making their first trip to the playoffs, Kobe and LeBron are coasting to the number one seeds in their respective conferences. I realize that Kobe is still a cold-blooded killer, and that LeBron is still King. But Kevin Durant is a freakish talent that bears little resemblance to any player I’ve ever seen. His length, sweet stroke and Paul Newman-esque cool hand make it clear that Kevin Durant has a chance to make even LeBron feel his venom.