Although I agree passing on Greg Oden was extremely difficult to do, the Blazers should have picked based on their gut feeling in 2007 instead of their desire to go with the prevailing thought.
I understand even if Oden never lives up to expectations, the Blazers will not be blamed. Why? Because everyone in the NBA, media and fans said they should not pass up Oden and take Kevin Durant. OK, but the Blazers got a better close up and personal view during individual workouts. Because of what they saw, Durant should have been a no-brainer.
I was told by a credible Blazer source that Durant had the best workout they had ever seen. They said he passed with flying colors every obstacle they threw his way. On the other hand, Oden’s first workout was a disaster and they had to stop it and bring him back a few hours later without media watching. I will admit that should not have forced the Blazers to draft Durant, but it should have alerted them to the type of player Durant would become.
I have always been told that your first instinct is usually the best and the Blazers behind closed doors are kicking themselves for not taking Durant three years ago. Injuries can happen to anyone, so this does not play into my decision to make these statements. Oden has the same chance to get hurt as anyone else and unfortunately it’s been him on a regular basis. I still believe he will grow into an All-Star if he can ever stay healthy, but Durant was just the best choice and he is proving it every night. He's a scoring machine and the most efficient scorer at small forward in the NBA with all due respect to Carmelo Anthony, one of my favorites.
When I first heard of the negatives attributed to Durant in terms of not being strong enough, I was in agreement that he needed more bulk to compete at the NBA level. I made a huge mistake and I should have known better. George Gervin proved that being skinny was not a hindrance back when defenders could maul you, so why did we make such an example of a 6-foot-10 kid out of Texas?
Well, there’s a pretty simple answer... We didn' think he'd become a reincarnation of Gervin. We thought he would be a skinny Jermaine O’Neal with a jumpshot. We all understood Durant could shoot, but we thought his strength would be a problem because of his height and what position he would eventually have to play. We did not look at the ballhandling ability and the smarts he possesses and that is why he has proven us all wrong in that respect. He can play any position on the floor and therefore has become the most versatile scorer in the NBA.
There are five reasons why Kevin Durant is one of the top scorers in the game and these reasons will eventually move him into the Top 5 scorers in NBA history if he stays away from injuries.
- We already know Durant is an excellent jump shooter, but that skill alone does not make him the great scorer that he has become. Jason Kapono and JJ Redick are very good shooters, but are not and will never be big-time scorers.
Durant understands angles, timing and, most importantly, how to catch the ball in his range. These weapons make him extremely dangerous on the basketball court. Durant is a rhythm three-point shooter. That is not his strength, although defenders for the most part think it is.
This myth tends to relax defenders when Durant catches the ball below the arc, which really plays into the actual strength of his game. The key to any great scorer is the mid-range game and the rules protecting offensive players when they catch and face a defender provide a smorgasbord of points for Durant. He has mastered the Thunder's offensive playbook and the art of receiving the ball 20 feet and in on the catch. So when he pivots towards the defender in a triple-threat position, the defender's only option is to retreat a step and subconsciously lower arms worried about a one-dribble drive to the basket. When defenders falls into that position, they are automatically at the mercy of Durant.
His height and arm length automatically give him the confidence of knowing he will not get his shot blocked and his first step allows him the comfort of knowing the defender will not body-up on him. So Durant now has his defender on a string. If Durant threatens a drive, the defender drops his arms – thus giving up the mid-range shot. If the defender raises his arms, Durant can attack off the dribble. Most importantly, because Durant is one dribble away from a dunk, the help defenses can’t offer much help. So the defender is on Durant’s Island of Terror and that movie is R-Rated and extremely scary.
- If you are going to score over 25 points a game, you better not have a conscience. Durant has never had one. Scorers like Durant enter an arena with two thoughts in mind: 1. I want to win and 2. I want to score 50 on you in the process. When you have this thought process, you don’t carry your feelings on your sleeve. Why? Well, for one you tend to drive your coach crazy at times with ill-advised shots. You also tend to wear on fans at times if you are having an off night and they would rather have you pass than keep shooting.
The most important thing (and here is where great scorers get separation is relationship with teammates)... Scorers have to reel their teammates in with consistency and relentless effort. Scorers are not out to make friends and if they have teammates who don’t like them because of it, they just have to keep relentlessly working their approach every game. What eventually happens is those same teammates start passing the scorer the ball more than others.
Durant has had the most difficult job of any big-time scorer in the league because he is on a young team and they all have something to prove. The only player that seems to be in competition with Durant at times is Russell Westbrook, but he seemed to get on board somewhat after Durant went on that multiple run of 25-plus games. Durant, although unassuming, is an assassin and he is tough as nails when it comes to the art of scoring the basketball.
- I love Durant’s demeanor on the court. He has the same look and walk at the start of the game and at the end. He allows his game to do the talking and rarely do you see a waste of energy with excessive celebrations after a basket. Why? Because he plans on scoring a bunch, so conserving energy is a must.
You want to know the biggest advantage for a scorer like Durant? He rolls off excessive contact and he uses his energy when needed. That is the only way he can get numbers like he puts up every night. LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are different scorers because they handle the ball much more than Durant. Durant is being challenged constantly with physical play and he does not buy into the confrontations. He buys into buckets!
I once had a teammate who desired to be a scorer and complained all the time. I remember we had three scorers out and the coach ran five straight plays for him and he did not get one shot off. Some players have no idea how much of an effort it is to get up 20 shots a game with defenses smothering you. Durant believes he is supposed to make baskets and the look he portrays after drilling a jumper in a defender's face cuts deep into the psyche of any rival.
- Scotty Brooks has Coach of the Year wrapped up and personally I think he has done one of the best coaching jobs in years. This young team in Oklahoma is for real. Please name me a young team led by a third-year star with mediocre veteran help winning like this club? Brooks is doing something I have never seen. Convincing a young team to allow Durant to be the star was huge. Durant had to prove he was worthy of taking the lead and proving his coach correct and he has in a big way. I have not talked to Brooks, but I heard the only conversation Durant likes to engage in is how he can become a lock-down defender like Kobe and LeBron. The right coach can enhance a great scorer and Brooks has done it with unbelievable consistency.
- The most important piece in the maturation of this great scorer is... Teammates. They cheered him when he was on his streak of 25-point games and they stand up when he breaks ankles. That tells me Durant is grounded with his teammates. That tells me he communicates and supports them when they have success. That tells me he has ingrained in their minds that he deserves to take 20 shots per game and they should make sure he gets his touches. Most people outside of the team might think this is easy, but it is not. Egos prevail in NBA locker rooms and positioning for the next payday can interfere with making sure your strengths are taken care of on a nightly basis.
There are eight players in the NBA that I personally enjoy watching: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. I picked these players for my own personal reasons. When I first watched Durant play an AAU game five years ago in a hot gym In Houston, I knew he would be special and special he has become.
They say everyone has a twin in life. Well, George Gervin, you have found yours. Enjoy watching your clone for the next decade.