Kevin Durant won his first scoring championship at the age of 21, making him the youngest player in NBA history to achieve that feat. He was born to score, but the rest of his game was unrefined.
He was not a lockdown defender; bigs with size and strength could exploit him in the post. He was not a good facilitator; you did not put the ball in his hands to create, you put the ball in his hands to score.
His ability to score with unseen ball handling for a player with his height coupled with historically great shooting splits made him an elite player. The problem was, LeBron offered elite level scoring and more (defending and facilitating), essentially squashing any comparisons between both players from the start.
Then the 2013–14 season came around, the defensive impact was there, the ability to facilitate was added, Durant closed a significant gap, opening the discussion on the world’s best player.
The James Harden trade/blunder aside, the Thunder failed to put the important banners in the rafters, due to untimely injuries. But their bigger fault was there poor late-game execution, offensive stagnation, and hero ball proclivities. The latter of which led to Durant’s departure.
Durant’s decision to leave gave him what he wanted; a unifying team basketball culture, based in unselfishness, with a pristine and symphonic motion offense. As a result, he has added two rings to his resume. But his time in Golden State has done nothing to add to his greatness.
By playing with Thompson and Curry, arguably the two greatest shooters of all-time, he has been granted the luxury of space. Defenders can’t shade and double him like they use to because of the Splash Brothers, thus, making him even harder to guard. And by making things that much easier for him, he hasn’t had to expand his offensive repertoire, not that there is much more to add.
Although his defensive impact has become more apparent; the rim protection, shot blocking, and length on-ball defense; the era of basketball that he plays in has all but eliminated big men entirely. It’s not like he’s guarding Karl Malone or nullifying a Charles Barkley type of low post talent.
More importantly, he has assumed less responsibility. He can have substandard offensive games, fading into the background, and at times can be irrelevant. He has with three All-NBA caliber teammates.
A two-time MVP in Stephen Curry; unarguably the greatest shooter of all-time and one of the 10 best point guards of all-time. One of the game’s best two-way players in Klay Thompson; another all-time great shooter and a perfect low maintenance superstar who can put on virtuoso shooting displays whenever he pleases. And the most versatile defender in the modern NBA in Draymond Green; an undoubtedly cerebral player whose impact on the game is paramount to the Warriors success.
Durant is easily on the shortlist of all-time great small forwards; LeBron is the greatest, Bird is second, Durant is third, followed by Julius Erving. He is one of the 15 greatest players of all-time, with a ceiling that might propel him higher.
But his success in the past two seasons hasn’t done much to move him up that list. He hasn’t added more tools to the toolbox or assumed more responsibility. His triumphs are not impressive because they are objectively easier than his peers, one in particular (LeBron). And the level of leadership is even more laughable in comparison to LeBron and other all-time greats because he plays on a team with unmatched talent.