For years, Kevin Durant has been one of the best players in the NBA. This year, one could make a strong argument that Durant has been the best player in the NBA.
In recent weeks, the 25-year-old has been playing the finest basketball of his career. He has eight straight games of 30 or more points. He has the four highest point totals of any player in the 2013-14 season (54, 48, 48, 46) and they’ve all come in the last 10 games.
This season, Durant is currently averaging 30.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.5 steals. His efficiency rating (30.94), estimated wins added (16.2) and value added (484.5) all lead the league by a wide margin.
Durant because just the third player in the past 25 years with four or more 45-point performances in a 10-game span, joining Kobe Bryant and Bernard King. And how efficient has Durant been during that stretch? He raised his shooting percentages to 50.2 percent from the field, 41.1 percent from three and 88.1 percent from the free throw line, which means another 50-40-90 season is possible. In his last three games, he has 130 points on just 68 shots.
The best part of Durant’s individual success is that it has translated into victories for the Oklahoma City Thunder. The team has been playing much better since Durant started dominating, winning their last four games and seven of their last 10, including wins over the Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets among others. The Thunder are currently 32-10 and just a half game behind the San Antonio Spurs for the top seed in the Western Conference (with a nationally televised game between Oklahoma City and San Antonio set for tonight).
Durant is having a monster campaign and, if the season ended today, many people around the league believe he would take home the Most Valuable Player award. That’s right, this could be the year that Durant finally rips the trophy out of LeBron James’ hands after finishing second in voting three times. While Durant won’t acknowledge the MVP buzz, the rest of the league certainly has.
“That’s premature, man. It’s still early in the season,” Durant said of possibly winning MVP. “I try not to think about that type of stuff. Of course as a player, you’d love to win an MVP award. I can’t think about that, can’t take my focus off the team. Every day I’ve got to just keep chipping away, keep enjoying the process and we’ll see what happens.”
The Blazers got to experience firsthand what a pissed off Durant can do. He scored 11 points in the final three minutes and 30 seconds to propel Oklahoma City past Portland. Durant hit a number of threes and wasn’t going to leave the building without a victory. After the game, the Blazers marveled at Durant and he received some more MVP support.
“The guy is the best player in the world right now. What can you say about him?” Nicolas Batum told NBA.com. “When you watch him on TV, like, he is the best. When you guard him in the game, sometimes you have two guys on him and he makes the shot anyway. He’s the MVP. He’s the MVP. I mean, six years I have been in this league I have never seen a [performance] like that. Six years.”
“MVP performance,” Terry Stotts told reporters after last night’s game. “To score 46 points on 25 shots, six of seven from three, and I think he got a couple of his shots blocked. It was a remarkable performance. He made shots when they mattered. He took his time and didn’t force it. He took what was there, and he made some great shots.”
“When the basket’s an ocean, you can’t really do much about that,” Wesley Matthews said. “He’s been on a roll.”
“He did what he’s been doing the last two weeks,” Damian Lillard said of Durant. “He’s hitting 50, 45 and 50 again. We knew coming in he’s been shooting the ball well and confident.”
Durant, who is the epitome of a team player and truly one of the nicest guys in the league, is just happy to see the Thunder winning games. Some players would make this comment and not mean it. With Durant, it’s 100 percent true that his scoring outbursts don’t mean anything to him if they come in a loss.
“As a leader my main objective is to serve my teammates,” Durant said. “How can I help them out. Some nights I’ve got to put it up, I’ve got to score. Some nights I’ve got to do other things. … I just try to survey the game and see what my team needs me to do. I see how I can help my teammates. Some nights it’s going to be scoring, some nights it’s going to be facilitating, rebounding and playing good defense. We’ll see. I just try to take it one possession at a time and try to help the team out as much as I can.
“I just try to be aggressive at the rim and put pressure on the defense. If they draw in, I kick it out. If not, I try to lay the ball up or take a good shot. When we’re moving the ball like that and everybody’s touching it and feeling good, it helps [our offense] and helps our defense as well.”
One thing has been noticeable during this recent stretch of must-see TV from Durant is that he seems to be enjoying himself on the floor. He’s smiling and having a good time, along with his teammates.
“I’m just having fun out there,” Durant said. “Every moment I’m on the court is fun for me no matter how the game is won. You play this game and you look to the bench and see your teammates are so happy for you. All I could do was smile because I know their joy for the team. It’s a great feeling knowing that you have your group of brothers out there supporting you no matter what. So that’s what I was smiling for.”
Durant’s teammates and coaches are thrilled to be on wearing the same colors as the 25-year-old superstar. They are enjoying the team’s success, but they are also thrilled to see their brother having this type of success and finally getting the recognition that he deserves.
“I have played with some pretty good players, but what he is doing right now is on a whole other level,” Kendrick Perkins said of Durant. “His confidence in the threes he hit, he is just in the zone. Like I said, he is in the zone and I am just happy for him.”
“There’s no question we are seeing an amazing player develop in front of our eyes,” Scott Brooks said of Durant. “That’s one of the big reasons why I started wearing my glasses during the game so I can see that. I didn’t miss the 54-point night and I didn’t miss tonight. There’s not much I can say about him that I have not already said. He’s an amazing young man who takes a lot of pride in what he does, how he plays and how he represents our city. He’s just a prideful person, he was raised the right way and cares about doing the right things. He’s a smart player, a great player and a great teammate. There are not a lot of other adjectives that you can use that haven’t been used before, but I love the guy and I’m proud of the way he represents us. He does it every night and that’s not easy to do. Regardless of how he plays, he steps up and challenges himself to always do well the next night. … KD is a special player. Some nights he’s going to have a high-scoring game, but I just like the way he thinks. He thinks about the team. He [takes] great shots and everybody else gets involved. Everybody else has a chance to score because he commands so much attention. But he’s not looking to score every time and that’s what I love about what he brings to our team night in and night out.
“There are so many things that I love about KD, but especially the fact that he is an amazing teammate and wants to win. He wants to help his teammates have success. He has a gift of scoring, but he also has a gift of playmaking and helping his teammates score. His assists have gone up every year, he’s rebounding the ball at a high clip and he’s defending. He’s a two-way player and those are the special players in the league, the guys who can impact the game at both ends of the floor. He can.”
Possible Return to Chicago for Luol Deng?
Prior to being traded by the Chicago Bulls, Luol Deng said all of the right things about being loyal and striking a deal with Chicago when he hit free agency this summer. He made it clear that he would’ve loved to finish his career with the Bulls and had nothing but positive things to say about the organization.
Then, the team traded him to the Cavaliers in exchange for three picks and significant salary savings.
Today, Deng was asked a good question – would he still consider signing with the Bulls when he hits unrestricted free agency in July?
“I don’t know. Maybe they will offer me three years, $30 million,” Deng said with a laugh about that last Bulls offer that led to his trade, according to Sam Smith of Bulls.com. “That might be an option to take. I don’t know, it might be. … I have nothing against [anyone]. What happened, happened. I love Chicago. I’ve been there 10 years. There’s no bad blood or anything. What happened, happened. It is what it is. But for me to sit here and say, ‘I’m taking Chicago out of the equation,’ that’s stupid. I was there for 10 years.
“I’m definitely going to miss [his former Bulls teammates] throughout the years to come, but it’s nothing to be emotional about. It’ll be good to see the guys, good to see the coaches. Those guys have really helped me a lot with my game. Not only the players, but also the coaches. The hours we’ve spent together working and everything. So it’ll be strange, something that I’ve never done before. I’m not used to it. I haven’t been traded that many times. This is the first time really. So I don’t know how it’s going to be.”
Deng also spoke about the Cavs team that he’s a part of, where he’s a wise, old veteran at 28 years old.
“It’s crazy,” Deng said with a laugh. “I’m 28 and I’m like one of the old guys here. So it’s weird. But it’s a role that I’m really comfortable with. It gives you confidence that the guys want you to lead and they believe in you. It’s a great group of guys. They’ve got a lot to learn, but it’s a lot of talent here. It’s just learning how to finish games, putting wins together and I’ve been on teams that were very similar to this. We had to learn how to win and become who we are now.
“Very similar to the ‘Baby Bulls,’” Deng said of his team that also featured Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon. “Now it’s the old Bulls, I guess. I see some things and try to help the guys out. A lot of stuff that matters to you when you’re young and as you get older, you realize if you knew that earlier, it would have helped you a lot more. So I’m just trying to let the guys know from experience. It’s been great. It’s been really great. And it takes me back to how much I’ve learned because I’ve been there. And it’s really strange because sometimes you don’t realize how much you’ve learned and then coming here, and some of the stuff they’re doing and you’re trying to help them out. You just realize you made that transition without even realizing.”
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