A few months ago, you ranked Kevin Durant 10th best among all NBA players. Considering the impact of his game during the worlds and the maturation of his game on both ends of the court in conjunction with the experience he’s gained there, where do you rank Durant now? – Ed, Walnut, Calif.
For sure, Durant was not only the best player on Team USA, but also the best player in the entire world championship tournament. However, it should also be noted the competition was far below NBA level. If there were several NBA players scattered throughout the various teams, the only one who unilaterally defended Durant was Ersan Ilyasova, who is far from being a defensive ace.
Indeed, most of Durant’s points were scored either in isolated situations or by shooting over a gaggle of much shorter and slower defenders who manned the point in opponents’ zone defenses. If he wasn’t open on the catch, then some kind of simple spin easily shed his defender and created good looks.
In other words, his success in Turkey should in no way be overrated.
That said, Durant is still one of the NBA’s premier players.
So where does he currently rank?
Listed in alphabetical order, my latest thinking is that the following players are better than Durant:
Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, LeBron James, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade and Deron Williams — which places KD eighth overall.
At the same time, Durant is better than Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, Manu Ginobili, Amar’e Stoudemire, Brandon Roy, Tim Duncan and Chris Paul.
While Durant’s defensive rotations showed great improvement in the FIBA tournament, he was never challenged one-on-one, and defense remains a significant flaw. His most telling shortcoming, however, is his lack of strength. Remember how easily Ron Artest bullied Durant out of his game in the playoffs and forced him into shooting a mere 34.9 percent from the field?
An increase in weight and strength will make Durant more resistant to injuries, help his durability so he’ll have more gas in his tank when the playoffs roll around and enable him to withstand bump-and-grind defensive tactics.
KD’s defense will undoubtedly improve as he learns increasingly advanced techniques and becomes even more familiar with the individuals he will be called upon to guard. His left hand will likewise get more effective.
It should also be remembered that Durant is still a few days shy of his 22nd birthday, so he’s absolutely capable of making all of the above-mentioned improvements.
If he is diligent in his offseason work in the weight room, here’s how Durant could easily move up several spots in the superstars’ hierarchy in the next three to five years:
• By then, Kobe will be on the downside of his career, Nash and Nowitzki will be retired, D-Wade will have lost at least a half-step and Gasol’s body will be breaking down more often. All of which are either certain or highly likely.
• Jerry Sloan will coach as long as he can breathe, so the expression of Deron Williams’ individual brilliance will continue to be curtailed by Sloan’s by-the-numbers offense. This is possible, but not probable.
• LeBron will fail to win at least two NBA championships. Not impossible.
• None of the NBA’s other young lions will make greater quantum leaps in their own development than Durant will. Improbable.
• None of the collegiate or international players drafted between now and then prove to be all-time great performers. Unlikely.
In addition, to reach the top, Durant will have to lead Oklahoma City to more championships than either of his main competitors — LeBron and Williams.
Given that Russell Westbrook won’t be 22 for several weeks, Jeff Green just turned 24, Eric Maynor is 23 and both James Harden and Serge Ibaka are only 21, this young team has plenty of room to grow. This timetable also gives the Thunder sufficient opportunity to add the two or three players (a pair of bigs and another scoring small forward) they require to become one of the NBA’s dreadnaught teams.
All probabilities and permutations included, then, Durant’s chances of eventually becoming the league’s best player are awfully good.