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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

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Experience reigns supreme in NBA


Kevin Durant had another spectacular season, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to win the scoring title with 30.1 points per game and leading the Thunder to the playoffs in only their second season in Oklahoma City. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On the eve of the 2007 NBA Draft, the question on the mind of many observers was who would be the better pro, Kevin Durant or Greg Oden. They were seen to be once-in-a-lifetime players who would be a surefire franchise cornerstone. Oden was taken first overall by Portland, and Seattle took Durant second. Everyone assumed that both teams would, in due time, become title contenders.

But that narrative quickly unraveled. Seattle lost the team that it had called its own for 41 years just one year after drafting Durant. Oden has sadly become the spiritual successor to Sam Bowie in every facet, right down to Portlanders’ broken expectations.

Seattle’s loss has been Oklahoma City’s gain, through and through.  If any player has exceeded people’s expectations these three years, it’s Kevin Durant. People knew that he was talented, but few thought he could carry the Thunder into a competitive series with the defending champion L.A. Lakers in just his third season at the age of 21.

Durant has shouldered much of the load for the Thunder on his own, with an impressive stat line of 30 points per game on 48 percent shooting while grabbing eight boards a night. Yet, as good as his game is, there is always room for improvement. The Lakers figured out in Game 1 that stifling Durant could entirely derail the Thunder’s game.

It doesn’t help that the biggest shortcoming in his game is his passing. Contemporaries like Bryant and LeBron James have each averaged north of 4.5 assists for their careers, with James often drawing comparisons to Magic Johnson, one of the great distributers of all time.

Durant isn’t there yet, and that’s why he is almost certain to lose this series. Bryant’s Lakers have the depth, size and experience that Durant’s squad does not. History also suggests that Durant will fail, since the eighth seed has won just three times over a top seed in the NBA playoffs.

But it’s hard to root against Durant, even if you’re a Sonics fan. For all the scandals the NFL has faced over the last few offseason, the NBA has quietly managed to rebrand itself and is shedding its reputation as a league of thugs. It has its new generation of stars, Durant included, who, so far, have managed carefully their wealth and fame.

The NBA could have, and should have, done a better job in helping Seattle keep its team. Unfortunately that moment has passed, and the basketball-crazy Pacific Northwest won’t be the same for some time. Kevin Durant’s story will be a different one in Oklahoma City, but it wouldn’t be much of a spoiler to say that this story has a lot of gold hardware at its end.

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