Top 50: Kevin Durant, no. 8

by October 16, 2009

by Ben Osborne

One of my favorite things about working for a magazine that covers basketball from high school through the pros is getting to watch players develop every step of the way, and see hoKevin Durantw my/our projections pan out. When I saw Kevin Durant play in high school, to be honest, I had my doubts. Not doubts about making the League or anything, especially because the scoring was obvious then, but his skinniness drove me to distraction and I could not project NBA greatness for him.

I was impressed like everyone else when I saw what Kevin did at Texas, but I still struggled to see superstardom (as usual, Aggrey knew better than me). By the time Oden v Durant came around, I was calling Durant a “future all-star,” but liked GO more (just check my comment on that Lang Link I just linked to). I thought his best-case scenario was to be the next T-Mac…

Today, nice as Mac was when healthy, I’m ready to call that career arc disappointing for Durant. I’m now firmly in the camp of: this guy barely has a ceiling. To the point that in this poll, I voted Durant 5th (I went: 1-LeBron, 2-Kobe, 3-Dwyane Wade, 4-Chris Paul), and I’m happily sacrificing my first-round pick in fantasy basketball to “keep” him after the promise he showed last season.

What’s the big deal with this guy that, honestly, few fans outside of Seattle or Oklahoma City have seen play more than a handful of times? Obviously the scoring ability is paramount. This 6-9, 230-pounder has the height, shooting touch, skills and mentality to be a 30+-ppg scorer this season. Talk to me about “defense winning championships” till your blue in the face; only a handful of guys on the planet can dream of scoring 30+ per game in the NBA. The rest of his game needs work, but at 6-9 with long arms and great instincts, I see no reason his rebounds, assists, steals and blocks per game won’t all improve this season (KD averaged 6.5, 2.8, 1.3 and 0.7, respectively, in these categories last year). I’m also not feeling the “he’s a horrendous defender” angle, as though he’s been in the League 10 years and we know how what his prime will be like in any part of the game. Kid just turned 21. Think he can’t work his way into being, at worst, an average defender? Come on.

Knowing this piece was due soon, and because of his aforementioned status on my fantasy team, I’ve had Durant on the brain for the past couple weeks. To that end, I liked seeing John Hollinger, a voice I trust more often than not, project Durant as fifth in the League in PER this season.

I also enjoyed the New York Times’ Jonathan Abrams portrait of a humble young man about to become an NBA superstar while playing in a city where he often goes unrecognized.

I did not really enjoy the controversy surrounding the TrueHoop-inspired debate about his value in relation to his +/-, primarily because of the same reasons I defended his defense: it’s too early. Kevin Durant has been the best player, and played the most minutes, on a terrible team for two years running. Now that he has learned the game more, and the talent around him has grown as well, I expect the Thunder to improve, and all of Kevin’s relevant stats to as well.

While it wasn’t part of my criteria in voting “Baby Ice” to be the 5th best player in the NBA this season, I would also like to add for sake of this post that he may rank No. 1 in the most fascinating player to watch this season contest. Think about it: we know what Kobe can do. LeBron and Shaq make the Cavs the team to watch, in my opinion, but we know what those dudes can do individually. Same with most of the other top talents in the League. The one guy who could go from “great young player” to All-NBA this season is Mr. Kevin Durant. He won’t simply be handed the accolades, however. Defenders will be coming after him. Coaches will be scheming against him. Media members will keep looking for blemishes.

Can Kevin Durant attack those who wish to stop him and thrill those now creating all his buzz? Having seen a skinny high school kid I worried didn’t have what it took grow into a young man with the ability and confidence to score on anyone in the world, I say yes.

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’09-10 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Brett Ballantini, Russ Bengtson, Toney Blare, Shannon Booher, Myles Brown, Franklyn Calle, Gregory Dole, Emry DowningHall, Jonathan Evans, Adam Fleischer, Jeff Fox, Sherman Johnson, Aaron Kaplowitz, John Krolik, Holly MacKenzie, Ryne Nelson, Chris O’Leary, Ben Osborne, Alan Paul, Susan Price, Sam Rubenstein, Khalid Salaam, Kye Stephenson, Adam Sweeney, Vincent Thomas, Tzvi Twersky, Justin Walsh, Joey Whelan, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive