It’s never been questioned who the leader of this budding group of NBA stars is on the U.S. Men’s National Team. While most of you would lob labels, such as The B-Team for example, for not having the likes of Kobe, Lebron and D-Wade as leaders on the floor. What a burden it would be to replace a couple stars off the ’08 gold medal team.
But how about replacing an entire roster?
This is especially tricky when the rest of the world- who have already painted the bull’s-eye on the U.S. squad in permanent paint, don’t have to overhaul their teams in this particular fashion. Now to be fair, no other teams in the world have a talent pool like ours and would gladly accept what “headaches” come with replacing stars with studs. Regardless of what talent and star power this team lacks is made up in hunger.
No wonder the leader of this National team is also one of the most ambitious players in the NBA.
This is not because he already became the youngest scoring leader in league history by averaging 30.1 points per game. Nor can you define his ambition by leading the league in field-goal attempts, and also free-throw attempts. Those don’t go hand in hand like you would assume. Actually making them from the charity stripe has to be a strong point of your game to give it substance. Michael Jordan, notable basketball measuring stick of greatness, set the mark of made free-throws in a single season at 833. One of his many records that still stand. And while Durant already implanted himself in the history books with a second place finish of 756 last year, he created a record that even Air Jordan has to acknowledge might never be matched.
Durant is the only player in NBA history to convert 700-plus free throws while shooting 90.0 percent or better from the line.
That kind of efficiency is usually displayed by second and third scoring options- pure shooters that spot up and hit free throws, not guys that score and rebound at a high rate. Measuring Kevin Durant’s effectiveness on any team is always going to rely on his point production. That’s not to say Durant lacks any intangibles or defensive hustle. That’s just never been his job. There is a reason the lanky 6’9 swingman has improved his PPG by 5 pts each year he’s been in the league. That’s his M.O. Score the basketball. Often. Now that I’ve broken the news that last year’s regular season scoring champion’s primary concern is scoring, I’ll let you in on the scary part. Not since Lebron was given the keys to a franchise in his inaugural year has a player being given the opportunity to develop indispensable leadership skills this early in his career. While Lebron participated in Olympic play after his first year in the NBA, his leadership growth was inarguably stymied by a team whose otherworldly talent- and lazy Sunday attitude- only fetched them a bronze medal in the ’04 Games.
But back to the point.
Durant not only has this entire National team on his back, let’s not forget he’s the Oklahoma City Thunder’s franchise player as well. What this FIBA World Championship run adds to an already extensive list of skills are intangibles. These have a distinct international flavor that cannot be duplicated in the States. Sure, you will hear about how he is constructing his overseas brand and adding Twitter followers by the truckload. But the knowledge and experience gained on this trip will define his career more than a 140 character Tweet ever will.
What Durant is doing is leading this talented group of upstarts into international waters and emerging as the quiet, ego-deficient superstar whose skill and upside are like watching a meteor fly by at eye level.
Not to sound like a nauseating 3 A.M infomercial pitchman. But, for those who are ready to finally get on the Durant bandwagon, there are some stats that reaffirm him as the star to watch blossom in the coming years. Sprinkle in the self-satisfaction you’ll reap when preaching about how you loved him before he was a household name. If you were still waiting for me to disclose those figures to you, pay attention. I already did.