Manchild in the Promised Land . . .
If everyone says they saw this coming with Kevin Durant, at 21, the youngest NBA scoring champion ever, the truth is no one saw this coming.
Not that it wasn’t easy to tell he was special, but this is beyond special.
“This is what, his third year?” says San Antonio General Manager R.C. Buford. “He just led the league in scoring. His team won 50 games. He’s in the MVP conversation and will be for 10 years.”
Durant is not only in the conversation, it looks like it’ll be a long-running dialogue.
Just running second to LeBron James in this season’s most-valuable-player race, as expected, would make him the highest-polling 21-year-old ever.
At 21, James, who was rewriting all the rules, was No. 9 in the MVP voting.
“The track people had for LeBron,” Clippers GM Neil Olshey says, “was rookie of the year in his first season, All-Star in his second, best player on the planet in his third. That’s what LeBron did.
“Kevin is doing the same thing. Nobody expected that.”
At this point, we’ll veer away from the usual Durant story, detailing how nice he is; his summers returning to take classes at Texas; his calls to people in the UT athletic department to say hello; his poise and work ethic that wowed the U.S. Olympic players and coaches when he played against them.
He’s all that and more, a program on two legs the Thunder can build around for a decade, like San Antonio with low/no-maintenance Tim Duncan.
Thunder GM Sam Presti came up in the San Antonio front office and, like the other alums running teams (Cleveland’s Danny Ferry, Phoenix’s Steve Kerr, Portland’s Kevin Pritchard), aspires to do what the Spurs did in the professional style they did it.
Of course, Duncan almost bailed for Orlando in 2000, prompting David Robinson to rush back from Hawaii to beg him to stay.
People aren’t as simple as they look in early tributes, like Matt Taibbi’s in Rolling Stone, moving Durant ahead of “demented three-faced narcissist” Kobe Bryant, or subsequent deconstructions, like ESPN’s Colin Cowherd on Durant (“He’s a scorer, I don’t think he’s a leader”).
So, the Thunder just moseyed off on its own and won all those games?
When GMs are asked who Durant reminds them of, there’s a pause.
It turns out, he doesn’t remind them of anyone.
Durant is an evolutionary step, like Bill Russell, the first modern center; Elgin Baylor, the first high-wire act; and the tag team of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the first to transcend the notion of guards, forwards and centers.
Michael Jordan went where no one had, but style-wise, he was the latest in a line that went back to Julius Erving and Baylor.
Bryant set standards for precocity and audacity, but style-wise, he was MJ II.
James could have started in the NBA at 16, but as a type, he was Magic II or Bird II in a young Wes Unseld’s body.
At 6-9 in stocking feet at the 2007 pre-draft camp, Durant shoots like Reggie Miller; floats runners and finger rolls like Tony Parker or George Gervin, and, despite being built like Manute Bol, goes inside enough to shoot 10 free throws a game.
Or, as Boston’s Kevin Garnett and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson suggested, referees may put him on the line because he’s so cute or they don’t know he just got here.
Garnett was upset after chasing out to the arc on 33-year-old legs as Durant got 37 and the Thunder won in Boston, going to the line 15 times, as if he were
Michael Jordan, complained KG.
OK, Garnett also added a new middle name for MJ, for emphasis.
Jackson doesn’t think opponents should shoot free throws, much less 10 a game, but was just setting the agenda, a postseason tradition, so it wasn’t personal.
As for Durant saying Jackson “disrespected” him, until Phil tells him to stop crying about having to carry Ron Artest everywhere and calls Oklahomans semi-civilized rednecks, the kid hasn’t seen nothing yet.
Fame is never what one expects. Really making it means the TNT studio show coming to town and Charles Barkley grading their nightlife.
All this and more awaits Durant, who’s barely out of puberty.
The NBA isn’t ready for a physical Durant, but he’s no longer the waif who couldn’t bench-press 185 pounds at the pre-draft camp, having bumped his rebounds from 4.4 to 7.6 and made the top 30 in blocks.
“LeBron was a man in high school,” Olshey says. “Kobe changed his body. Kevin’s still skinny, but when he gets up to 235, 240, what’s anybody going to do with him?”
Wait till they see how many free throws Durant shoots then.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
So good, so young
Comparing the numbers of Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant during their first three seasons.
Kevin Durant Age in rookie season: 19. Ht/Wt: 6-9, 215.
*--* Season G GS MPG FG% FT% APG RPG AVG. 2007-'08 80 80 34.6 430 873 2.4 4.3 20.3 2008-'09 74 74 39.0 476 863 2.8 6.5 25.3 2009-'10 82 82 39.5 476 900 2.8 7.6 30.1 *--*
Kobe Bryant Age in rookie season: 18. Ht/Wt: 6-6, 200.
*--* Season G GS MPG FG% FT% APG RPG AVG. 1996-'97 71 6 15.5 417 819 1.3 1.9 7.6 1997-'98 79 1 26.0 428 794 2.5 3.1 15.4 1998-'99 50 50 37.9 465 839 3.8 5.3 19.9 *--*