It didn’t take Kevin Durant long to get over the awe of being in the NBA. In his first game against the Nuggets I wasn’t sure if he was trying to guard Carmelo Anthony or get his autograph. Durant looked like a deer in headlights. He was timid with his shots and did not look ready to be the leader of this young Sonics team. Make no mistake, Durant has to be the leader and, by his game 2 performance, it looks like he’s ready to embrace that role.
Against the Suns, Durant showed signs of becoming the leader the Sonics need. Durant had 18 points in his debut shooting 7 for 22. Last night, he shot 11 for 23 for 27 points, but it was more than just his statistics that improved. Durant no longer looked timid. He was directing traffic and calling for the ball. The players were starting to look for him the way the Lakers look for Kobe. Early in the first, Durant drained a 3 over former great Grant Hill without any hesitation. He is looking for his shots and is developing that swagger that all great scorers need.
Durant made amazing progress from his first to second game, but there were a few glaring weaknesses in his game. He needs to learn to pick his shots. Durant’s degree of shot difficulty was far too high. He would shoot in double coverage or put up a quick 3-pointer early in the shot clock. Durant needs to learn that he can get easy shots and he needs to wait for those moments instead of jacking up 20-plus shots per game. A corollary to this is that he needs to get his teammates more involved. He has just 2 assists in his first 2 games and with the amount he will get double-teamed, he has to start looking to his teammates to help carry the load.
The biggest knock (yes, I know it’s only been 2 games) on Durant and the Sonics has been their inability to close. They are the second youngest team in the league and they don’t know how to close out games. In their first game versus the Nuggets they trailed by 5 going into the 4th quarter and lost by 17. Against the Suns they were up 3 points heading into the 4th and lost by 7. They have been outscored by 22 points in the 4th quarter. In those two 4th quarters, Durant has just 7 points. This is where, when a team is struggling, their superstar needs to step up and lead. Durant has all but disappeared in these situations.
I wondered what impact Kevin Durant would have in the NBA this year. His body does not look NBA ready and after just one year of college, how would he adjust to life in the NBA? Well, so far so good. He has exceeded my expectations and his athletic skill set makes his potential through the roof. Tracking Durant’s growth is one of the most fascinating story lines of this NBA season and so far it has not disappointed.