DAR Sports: The Evolution Of Kevin Durant

By @TrueGodImmortal

Imagine making a decision that is the best for you and your career and being villainized for that decision? Imagine being called a snake, a traitor, and more for making a free agent decision that you had every right to? Have you given your all to an organization, experienced injuries, dealt with criticism, been called Mr. Unreliable, and a number of different things, only to be judged and unfairly called a cupcake for making your own decision to leave the franchise? Imagine that same franchise lost a future All Star guard and the 6th man of the year at the time of his departure as well as a vital piece in the front court over the years. Imagine you decided to take your future into your own hands, and head to a team that gives you the best chance of winning a title. Imagine you win that title and still get people trying to discredit the work it takes to get to that point. Welcome to the world of Kevin Durant these days. As crazy as it is, there isn't a player on the planet that takes direct disrespect like KD does. The thing is, he's heard criticism forever because that's the nature of the game. Recently however, KD doesn't mind the criticism, and responds back with words and statements of his own, a far cry from what we saw in his earlier years. In essence, KD has evolved. He's evolved from the player who was consistently criticized and said very little to become one of the most outspoken players in the game today. Today, we look at the evolution of Kevin Durant and his growth into the player he has become.

Starting from his time in high school, KD was on the radar of most in the basketball world. The Maryland/DC native was seen as a top prospect during high school and that led him to land at the University of Texas for a season. At the University of Texas, Durant instantly would shine, establishing himself as a true scorer and a force to be reckoned with. He would end up taking awards that no one expected him to as a freshman, being named the National Player Of The Year, winning the John R. Wooden Award, the Naismith College Player Of The Year award, and many more honors. It was one hell of a season for KD and sure enough, he would enter the 2007 NBA Draft. When he was selected with the 2nd pick overall by the Seattle Supersonics, no one knew exactly what to expect or how Durant would be able to adapt to the NBA style of play. We learned quickly that KD was versatile and could do it all just about on the court. Still, the player that KD was when he was first drafted is no longer. Let's take a look at the growth and evolution of the Slim Reaper, starting with the opening year of his career.

*From Seattle To Oklahoma City
-After being drafted to Seattle, something would change for KD within his 2nd year in the league: his franchise moved. After joining the Seattle Supersonics, Durant would have a solid opening season, and though the Sonics weren't a winning team, KD still took home the Rookie Of The Year award, putting very good numbers in his first year. Finishing with 20.3 PPG, 4.4 RPG, and 2.4 APG, Durant made his presence felt on the court, and as the Sonics prepared to relocate, KD was now the face of their franchise. The Sonics relocated to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder in the 2008 season, with Durant stepping his game up and improving his scoring average by 5 points to finish with a 25.3 PPG average. He was working on all aspects of his game and it was beginning to show as he got better and better as time went on. He finished third in the Most Improved Player voting, which was a testament to his growth. He also would grow from 6'9 to 6'11, giving him one of the longer wingspans in the NBA. In the 2009-2010 season, Durant would take the next step and be voted in as an All Star and to the All-NBA Team and help the Thunder improve by 27 wins to make the playoffs. Once this occurred, it seemed that Durant was fully ready to be the leader and his scoring would hit the next level over the following seasons.

*The Scoring Champion
-After his first few seasons in the game, Durant established he was one of the best at scoring. He had the ability to drive the lane and dunk, hit a mid range shot, get his in the post, and even hit threes at a decent rate as well. He would become the youngest scoring champion in the 2010 season, finishing with 30.1 PPG on the season and showing that he was a dominant scorer. Up until the 2014 season, alongside his All Star and All-NBA appearances, the greatest accolades for KD were his scoring titles. He won the scoring title three years in a row, finishing with 27.7 PPG in 2011 and 28.0 PPG in 2012, and he barely missed winning a 4th straight in 2013, but he would have a massive season in 2014 and put up his highest scoring average of 32.0 PPG in his best year as a scorer. KD was giving the title of the best scorer in the league and rightfully so. He's an offensive force and from his first season, he was a top tier scorer, but watching him grow his game and find more ways to score and lead offensively has been amazing to witness.

*Reaching The Finals
-The first time Durant reached the Finals, he was still very young and developing his full abilities as a player. With a young and inexperienced team going against the Miami Heat super team, the Thunder were slightly in over their heads in 2012 when they made the NBA Finals. Still, that didn't stop them from stepping up to the challenge and attempting to make things happen. Playing against LeBron James, who had become a close friend over the years, Durant wanted to ball out and show Bron that he was just as good as he was. Durant didn't really impact the game in many other ways other than offensively and he got outplayed overall by LeBron, but he did lead his team in scoring and finished with 30.6 PPG for the series. The Thunder lost in 5, but for a young Durant, this was a learning experience and one he could use to draw motivation from and improve on certain facets of the game.

*The MVP Has Arrived
-After years of being no. 2 or 3 in the discussion for best player, Durant ended that discussion for a season when he took the regular season award away from LeBron James and put his name in the lights as the MVP. His most engaging season as the true leader of the Thunder, Durant was impeccable this entire year. However, through this season, of course, Durant took some flack and some criticism. This was the infamous year that he was dubbed Mr. Unreliable, as the Thunder got pushed by the Grizzlies in a playoff series during the 2014 playoffs. Still, that aside, Durant was mostly devoid of any slander and disrespect, because he didn't deserve it. His MVP season was well deserved, as he won the scoring title averaging his highest that season with 32.0 PPG, and with Russell Westbrook  injured for a part of the season, he was relied on even more, carrying the load for his team without a doubt. Some of the highlights of his season included his mega month of January, averaging 36 points during the month, scoring 30 points in 12 straight games including his career high 54 points against the Golden State Warriors (funny now isn't it). This was the year that Durant showed that he was the MAN and that he was ready for the spot of no. 1. Unfortunately, the Thunder got stopped short by the Spurs in the Conference Finals, but they were closer than ever. Durant didn't get a chance to outdo his MVP season in the 2015 season because he was injured for most of the year.

*Coming So Close In 2016
-I remember watching the 2015-2016 season, thinking to myself that the Warriors and the Spurs were the teams to watch out for. After the first round of the playoffs, it became increasingly clear that it was the Thunder. With the Spurs seemingly on fire and dominant, the Thunder looked to be doomed as they met in the 2nd round, but something happened. Everything started to work. Everything started to click. After a successful 55-27 season where both Westbrook and Durant mostly stayed healthy, it seemed as if this might be the year they actually do damage, however some tough tasks remained. After a surprise dominant performance in the 2nd round against the Spurs, the Thunder advanced back to the Conference Finals to take on the Golden State Warriors, a team that had defeated them every time that season. Once again, something happened. Blame it on injuries and fatigue, but the Warriors looked like their storybook season was about to go up in smoke. The Thunder took a 3-1 series lead before the unthinkable happened: The Warriors came back. Slowly but surely, we watched the falling apart of the Thunder with each game. During game 7, the Warriors figured it out and managed to put a stop to the championship hopes of Durant, Westbrook, and the Thunder. After the series was over, many expected the Thunder to regroup and come back the next season and give it yet another try. Durant on the other hand, had other ideas.

*Joining Golden State
-July 4th. 2016. It changed everything. I remember the Durant free agent sweepstakes. A lot of people figured he was staying in Oklahoma City. He had opted out of visiting with the Wizards, killing the whole dream of KD to DC that so many people  wanted. If Durant did what everyone else wanted him to do, he would either still be in Oklahoma City right now, or in DC with John Wall and Bradley Beal. While those aren't bad options, those were not the options that he really wanted. It was clear. As Durant went to his free agency meetings with teams like the San Antonio Spurs, the Boston Celtics, and the Los Angeles Clippers (the details of this meeting are still hilarious), there was the thought that he was likely going to just stay in OKC by most of us. However, we couldn't have been more wrong. After an exciting meeting with the Warriors core present, Durant made the decision that he was going to join the best team in the NBA, and with that, the world looked forward to what the next season would have to bring. Perhaps the way Durant handled things personally could have been better, but he made the decision that was best for him and as a result, he took the backlash for it. He would deal with the backlash during the off-season, complaining a bit about the perception and being seen as a villain, but the only way he was going to ascend to the next level is by embracing the role he had stepped into.

*Silencing Critics And Battling Back From Injury
-As the season started, it seemed as if the Warriors were going to struggle a bit after 2 blowout losses in the first 6 games of the season. After that small problem, the Warriors started to roll and the chemistry built rather easily as both Durant and Curry were magnificent at different stretches. Durant would end up being eased into the offense of the Warriors and allowed to have a very big role and all of the people who doubted him or criticized him had to shut up. The truth be told, we knew Durant could score and be one of the best in the game with no issue, what made him so special this season was his ability to show his defensive prowess unlike any other season before. From slowing down some players to a number of chase down blocks, KD was a candidate to make the All Defense team for the first time ever due to his play. It was just another step in the evolution of KD as one of the best players in the game. Unfortunately, KD would experience a small setback, as he went down with an injury for about 6 weeks. Battling back from that injury was a challenge for KD, but when he came back, he was just as good as before, maybe even better. This entire season, injury notwithstanding, showed that KD made the right choice and that he was more than ready to make the jump to become no. 1 and take over the league. The Warriors finished 67-15 on the season and secured the no. 1 seed in the West once again.

*NBA Champion And Finals MVP
-As the 2017 NBA Finals began, there were many doubts about whether or not KD would shrink against the Cleveland Cavaliers or not. As we all know now, Durant didn't shrink at all. In fact, he was the best player in the entire series. While LeBron was magnificent in his own right, his ability to disappear in the 4th quarter, especially in close games was something that worked against him. KD was more efficient, more impactful, and he hit the shot heard around the world in game 3 over LeBron. What we saw from KD as Finals MVP was one of the greatest performances ever. He was the better player offensively and defensively in the series with amazing performances in games 1 and 2 at home, then he had a solid performance in game 3 as mentioned, but the noteworthy moment of this is his performance in the 4th quarter of the game. He took over the game, and as a result, the Warriors came back from a 6 point deficit in the final few minutes, finishing with that big three that Durant hit. After a solid but not as efficient game 4 performance in the only loss in the Warriors playoff run, Durant responded with a game 5 performance for the ages, including a dominant 4th quarter alongside Steph Curry. With the Warriors winning game 5, Durant was now finally a NBA Champion. He would win Finals MVP of course with the amazing performance he put on the entire series, finishing with 35.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 5.4 APG, and 1.6 BPG on 56% from the field, 47% from three, and 93% from the FT line. Simply put, Durant was great and silenced any critic or hater by being the best player in the entire series. KD came to Golden State to win, and not only did he do that, he would do so in dominating fashion while affirming himself as the best player today in many people's eyes.

*Looking Ahead
-Now that Durant has the monkey off of his back, it's safe to say we might be seeing him take the reign as the best player in the NBA. Many have crowned him as this, and they have quite the argument for him. After Durant took less money to keep the Warriors team in tact, it seems that the only thing that can stop the Warriors now is themselves. They have positioned themselves for a shot at winning two or three more championships, and that's a scary thought. By taking less money, Durant showed his focus is on winning, keeping the team together, and getting his guys paid, including the true leader of the Warriors, Steph Curry. With his newfound championship confidence, Durant has been even more outspoken and in your face, which works both ways. In some cases, like when he releases his new shoes and throws in something to piss off his critics and haters, it works very well. Seeing him put his stats in his shoes or even release a red velvet cupcake color line of his sneakers is funny, as is his reborn need to tweet and answer mostly negative tweets for fun. There is the thought process that perhaps Durant is too preoccupied with those want to see him fall, criticize him, or hate him, but in many ways, so are a lot of other players, they just handle it differently.

On the flip side, Durant being more outspoken has led to him looking a bit lost, whether it's him saying that Shaq wasn't a skilled player, that Kyrie is better than Iverson, or even pissing off a fellow teammate (the team leader) in Steph Curry by attacking his shoe brand, sometimes KD puts his foot in his mouth and the result isn't always pretty. Still, you can see the growth of Durant and his willingness to take the heat for what he will have to deal with and the result of becoming a champion. Durant didn't take an easy way out, as we've seen that it doesn't always work out when super teams are created. For the Warriors to click in the first season and dominate the playoffs, it says a lot about their talent and chemistry together. As it stands now, Durant is playing the best basketball of his career and winning, and will likely win more championships going forward. The evolution of Kevin Durant into the best player in the league is just about complete. He isn't a snake, he isn't a coward, he isn't any of these things that his detractors have called him. Simply put, KD is a champion now and a Finals MVP with a top 5 Finals performance against the player many people said owned him. Whether you love him or hate him, you have to respect KD, his game, and what he's accomplished.



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