HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — For years now we’ve tried to come up with an appropriate comparison for Kevin Durant, for a comparable player with a near 7-footer’s length and the skill of an elite shooting guard.
And for years, we’ve come up empty here at the hideout. There is no one that we can think of that captures exactly what Durant brings to the floor every night.
After seeing what Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and the Thunder in an overtime win over the Denver Nuggets Sunday night, we’re giving up that fight. We’re prepared to classify Durant, in particular, in a category all his own.
But it’s never been more obvious that he has the sort of help surrounding him that could push the Thunder into the championship realm just a few years into the glorious basketball experiment going on in Oklahoma City.
No team in the long and illustrious history of the league has had a player score 50, another score 40 and another notch a triple double, until the Thunder trio did it against the Nuggets. The last time two teammates notched a 50 and 40 point game on the same night was 1983, when Kiki Vandeweghe (51) and Alex English (47) got loose.
Durant finished with a breathtaking and career-high 51 points (on 19-for-28 shooting and including a 5-for-6 performance from beyond the 3-point line). Westbrook turned in a season-high of his own, finishing with 40 points, nine assists and four rebounds. And Ibaka topped it off with 14 points, 15 rebounds and 11 blocks.
Not one of them is over the age of 23, a mind-boggling footnote in an otherworldly performance.
That blinding light shining in your face right now is the Thunder’s future and it begins and ends with those three and James Harden at the forefront of one of the most compelling youth movements the league has seen in a while.
Anyone that assumes they aren’t up to the task of taming the rugged Western Conference this season is clearly not paying attention. That playoff scare they gave the Los Angeles Lakers a couple of years ago was the platform they needed to catapult themselves into the mix of the best of the best.
They were the media darlings of the league a year ago, nabbing magazine covers and the national spotlight before they’d ever won a playoff series. But they proved their mettle by grinding their way to the Western Conference finals, where they were schooled by a veteran Dallas Mavericks team on its way to winning a title.
For the folks who feel like this Thunder crew still hasn’t paid its dues, that it is (as someone told us via Twitter) “missing something,” we don’t see anything missing.
That’s not to say the Thunder will win it all this season. The Mavericks taught us all how foolish it is to assume anything this time of year (remember, it was Miami’s time last season). And February predictions are just as valid as August predictions … useless in a league that tears up the script when the playoffs begin.
But the Thunder should be on your short list this season. Even with one of the youngest core groups in the league, it’s never been more obvious that their time is now!