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NBA PM: Durant’s Greatness Overshadowed
Posted By Alex Kennedy On May 7, 2013 @ 4:56 pm In NBA | No Comments
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Kevin Durant’s Greatness Overshadowed by LeBron James
LeBron James is the best player in the NBA. It’s no longer a debate, it’s a fact.
This week, James became just the fifth player in NBA history to win four MVP awards, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Statistic after statistic shows how he dominates the game on both ends of the court. When he entered the league, there was an unprecedented amount of hype surrounding him, but he has somehow exceeded all expectations. When all is said and done, he’ll go down as one of the greatest players to ever grace the hardwood.
James is a once-in-a-generation talent, which is why Kevin Durant and his greatness have been overshadowed. Much like every star that played when Michael Jordan reigned over the NBA, Durant’s achievements go overlooked and he doesn’t get the credit that he deserves.
“I’ve been second my whole life,” Durant recently told Sports Illustrated. “I was the second-best player in high school. I was the second pick in the draft. I’ve been second in the MVP voting three times. I came in second in the Finals. I’m tired of being second. I’m not going to settle for that. I’m done with it.”
This season, Durant shot 51 percent from the field, 42 percent from three-point range and 91 percent from the free throw line. Only five other players in NBA history have hit those percentages in a season – Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Reggie Miller, Mark Price and Larry Bird – and the exclusive group has been dubbed the 50-40-90 club. Durant became the first member of the club to also average one steal and one block on the season, which is a testament to his all-around game.
Becoming a complete player was one of Durant’s goals this year. Entering this season, Durant had never recorded a triple-double in his career, mainly because he wasn’t able to dish out 10 assists. However, that changed this season. After going five years and 391 games without achieving the feat, he has recorded three triple-doubles this season. Durant didn’t want to be perceived as a one-dimensional player, someone who could only score the ball.
That’s why Durant’s scoring average slightly decreased this season, which cost him his fourth consecutive scoring title. However, even though Carmelo Anthony has the scoring title crown, Durant is still regarded as one of the best offensive players in the league. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Durant’s scoring is that he’s not a volume shooter. He led the NBA in total points, but he averaged just 17.7 shots per game (less than Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, LaMarcus Aldridge and Stephen Curry). In fact, he didn’t even attempt the most shots on his team during the regular season (Russell Westbrook attempted 102 more shots than Durant). This season, Durant has been obsessed about being efficient and making the most of every possession, and the numbers back that up.
Durant has also established himself as one of the top clutch players in the league. This season, Durant totaled the most points of any player in the last five minutes of close games (contests within five points). Over the last five years, he has four game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final 24 seconds of playoff games, which is the most in the NBA over that span.
James has prevented Durant from winning a championship or MVP award, but his accomplishments are incredible, especially considering his age. At just 24 years old, Durant is barely older than some players in this year’s incoming draft class, yet he has put together one of the most impressive resumes in the league.
Durant has improved every season he has been in the league. He’s one of the NBA’s hardest workers and every offseason he adds new weapons to his already impressive arsenal. Over the years, he has significantly improved as a defender, passer, rebounder and scorer.
Because Durant is so young, he may have his turn as the NBA’s best player once James is on the decline. Durant is four years younger than James, so the former will likely be in his prime as the latter is nearing retirement.
Much like James pried the torch out of Kobe Bryant’s hands in recent years, Durant seems poised to carry it next. As James’ grip loosens, that’s when Durant will be able to make up for lost time and fill his trophy case with rings and awards. That’s when he’ll have the opportunity to cement his legacy and solidify himself as one of the greatest players of all-time, as James is doing right now.
Lance Stephenson Making Huge Strides
Paul George won the league’s Most Improved Player award this season, but he isn’t the only Indiana Pacer who has taken his game to another level this year. Lance Stephenson has improved drastically as well and he has been one of Indiana’s most important players during the postseason. Stephenson has averaged career-highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, field goal percentage and three-point percentage. He has also bought into head coach Frank Vogel’s system and become a team player.
In the playoffs, Indiana has allowed 90.8 points per 100 possessions with Lance Stephenson on the floor and 112.0 with him off the floor. That’s a ridiculous stat, especially when you consider that Roy Hibbert, Paul George and David West are ranked second, third and eighth in the league in defensive rating this season. Even though those players are excellent defenders, it’s Stephenson’s presence that has made the biggest difference for the Pacers during the postseason.
Stephenson has also been Indiana’s best rebounder. He has led the Pacers in rebounding in their last five games and has grabbed double-digit rebounds in the last three games, which is something he had only done twice in his three-year career prior to this postseason. In Game 1 against the New York Knicks, Stephenson had one of the best games of his career, contributing 11 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and three steals. Vogel had asked Stephenson to stay back and grab defensive rebounds rather than try to start the fastbreak, and the 22-year-old responded with the career-high 13 boards.
“Coach told me to crash, and if that’s what I have to do to help the team, that’s what I’m going to do,” Stephenson said.
“The kid’s learning discipline,” Vogel said with a smile. “We keep talking to him about not leaking out. He’s a weapon in the break and that’s good, but when he stays and rebounds, we’re pretty good too. We’ve been trying to keep him back and defensive rebound, and in the last two games he had double-digit rebounds in Atlanta and then 13 rebounds [in Game 1], just a great effort.”
Stephenson spent the bulk of his first two seasons in Indiana on the bench, and learned from the players ahead of him on the depth chart. He believes that time spent on the bench is what allowed him to improve.
“Watching all of the players that were in front of me and learning from them, I’m just taking what they do and putting in my own swagger,” Stephenson said with a smile. “It’s been working for me.”
Suns Hire Ryan McDonough as General Manager
The Phoenix Suns hired Ryan McDonough as their new general manager this afternoon. McDonough will take over the job after former GM Lance Blanks was fired two weeks ago. McDonough is 33 years old and is known around the league for being a terrific talent evaluator who builds through the draft.
McDonough spent three seasons as the assistant general manager of the Boston Celtics, where he was responsible for running the Celtics’ draft. He’s credited with pushing for the selections of Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley among others. McDonough joined the Celtics as a 23-year-old and prior to becoming assistant general manager, he served as Boston’s special assistant to basketball operations, director of amateur scouting, director of international scouting and director of player personnel.
“Ryan distinguished himself among an impressive group of candidates for our GM position,” said Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby. “His natural leadership and communication skills will serve the Suns well. And, his prodigious work ethic and ability to identify talent will enable us to take full advantage of the 10 draft choices, including six in the first round, that we have over the next three years. We welcome his championship pedigree to our organization.”
The Suns will likely hire a young head coach since their going to be building through the draft going forward. Their rebuilding effort will likely be similar to the Orlando Magic’s. The Magic also hired a young general manager (Rob Hennigan) and head coach (Jacque Vaughn) with the goal of building through the draft and developing their young talent.
To learn more about McDonough and how he has ushered in a new era of player evaluation, check out this excellent profile by Paul Flannery of SBNation.com.
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