As an Oklahoma City Thunder fan, I have been privileged over the past three years to be able to watch the development of Kevin Durant from a scrawny rookie who had sky high potential, to one of the best players in the NBA who has far exceeded that sky-high potential.
And even though almost all of the press after Thursday night’s game is being devoted to Russell Westbrook’s benching, Durant will only be in the shadows for so long. His talent and his will to win demand attention from both the press and opposing defenses. Neither seems to faze him.
He has continually hit big shots and set the tone for the Thunder this postseason which leads to the question: Just how great is this guy? Which then, as it does invariably with all great players, leads to the ultimate question of basketball greatness: How does he compare to Michael Jordan?
Before I go any further, let me say something. There will never be another Michael Jordan. He came, has gone and that is the end of it. There will never be another player like him, which is why he has become the standard by which we measure all great players.
Now that I have gotten that out of the way, here is this point: every generation has a player—or a couple of players—that is the closest to Jordan it can get. This is a characteristic of every generation, even those that came before Jordan ever walked on an NBA court. Abdul-Jabbar, West, Chamberlain, etc.
Durant’s play this postseason has been fantastic. He’s had three 40-point games and has averaged 29.4 points per game. He’s closed big, closeout games against both Denver and Memphis. But those things aren’t enough to make him Jordan-esque.
On Thursday night, when Durant made the play of his young career dunking over Brendan Haywood, it made people step back and stare in awe. And even though that was something that Jordan was known for, it still isn’t enough to make Durant the Michael Jordan of now.
But what is enough are both of things plus what happened after that great play. Do you remember? Or have the continuous replay of the dunk and the never-ending coverage of Westbrook’s benching made you forget?
The Thunder went on a run, which lead to them acquiring a two-point lead at halftime. The game got close down the stretch, but the Mavericks could never regain control. Durant’s dunk was the turning point and that’s what makes a player Jordan-ish.
Durant scores with ease, makes big plays and leads his team. It takes all of that to even be close to MJ. Winning MVP’s, scoring titles, or No. 1 seeds are great, but to get to that “whole ‘nother level,” a player must win in the playoffs by leading his team mentally and physically. And to get anywhere near the level of Jordan, a player must do that exceptionally well.
That’s exactly what Kevin Durant has done this postseason, and, like His Airness, his insatiable will to win and supreme scoring talent can only be stopped by fate.