He looks so studious, walking into NBA arenas with a backpack slung over his shoulders. The image is enhanced when he slips on a pair of designer glasses in the locker room.
And then off he goes, an hour before every game, to chapel with a group of teammates to reflect on what’s really important.
Somehow, it hasn’t come to Kevin Durant through the powers of deduction or divine revelation that he may be selected the league’s most valuable player.
“I really don’t see it happening, to be honest,” the Oklahoma City superstar said Thursday before the Thunder played the Lakers at Staples Center.
“Man, you see what guys like Kobe [Bryant] and LeBron [James] and Kevin Love and Dwyane Wade, guys like that are doing,” Durant said. “It’s just kind of tough to top what they’re doing every single night.”
Well, every single night, sure.
But on many nights, in what has easily become his best season as a pro, Durant is doing it.
He had 28 points and eight assists when the Thunder whipped the Miami Heat and James, 103-87, on March 25. Then he shrugged off an 0-for-8 start against the Lakers to finish with 21 points, 11 rebounds and one memorable run-in with Bryant during Oklahoma City’s 102-93 triumph.
With Bryant driving toward the basket in the third quarter, Durant wrapped up the Lakers’ star with both arms and knocked him to the floor with enough force to leave hardwood imprints on Bryant’s body.
Afterward, Durant walked away, neither apologizing nor checking to see if Bryant was OK.
That’s about as close as the reserved Durant gets to showing fiery resolve.
“I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve, man,” he said when asked why he seems to lack the outward fury displayed by most top players. But “I’m always angry. When I’m on the floor, I always have a chip on my shoulder after a lot of people write me off sometimes.
“So I’m not the guy who’s always going to talk about it. You might not see it if I make a big shot or a big play or whatever. I keep it in my mind, just store it in my memory box, but I do have that will. I always want to be one of the best players to play this game.”
He’s already there. Durant may not win a third consecutive scoring title, with Bryant having taken over the top spot for most of the season, but his all-around game has never been better. He is averaging 27.7 points per game and career highs in rebounds (8.1), assists (3.5) and blocks (1.2) while shooting a career-best 50.1%.
Perhaps most impressively for a wispy 6-foot-9 forward with a point guard’s skill set who can score from seemingly every spot on the floor, points are now the least of his concerns.
“He’s not worried about scoring,” Oklahoma City guard James Harden said. “He doesn’t go out and try to get 30 every single night. He goes out and makes the right plays, the right passes. The scoring is going to come just because he scores the ball so well, but making the right plays all the time is how he’s having a better year.”
Durant, 23, has come in second in MVP voting, finishing as the runner-up to James in 2010. He was in fifth place last season as Derrick Rose won the award for the first time.
This could be Durant’s year.
Rose is out of the running because of injuries that have sidelined him for a few lengthy stretches. Kevin Love’s superlative statistics are offset by the Minnesota Timberwolves’ sub.-500 record. Bryant’s scoring sprees probably won’t be enough because of his relatively low field-goal percentage (.425) and the fact that the Lakers are so far behind the Thunder in the Western Conference.
That leaves James, who is having another standout season but has endured a recent shooting slump and may still be suffering from political backlash over his infamous decision to stage “The Decision” on ESPN two years ago.
Plus, as Thunder Coach Scott Brooks pointed out, MVP voters have an affinity for spreading around an award that James has already won twice.
“I played against [Michael] Jordan for many years, and he easily could have gotten it for 12 straight years,” Brooks said. “A bad year for him was 32 [points], six [rebounds] and six [assists] instead of 34, seven and seven.”
If Durant wins the award, he may end up thanking James.
James invited Durant to his Akron, Ohio, home over the summer for a week of workouts that both players have said helped them endure the challenges of a lockout-shortened season.
Durant conceded that a season ending with an MVP award would “mean a lot,” though he doesn’t seem to think he has much of a prayer.
“I don’t really worry about it,” he said. “All I can control is how hard I work, and we’ll see what happens at the end of the year.”