Kevin Durant, flawed and perfect

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kevin_durant_team_usa.jpgKevin Durant has yet to disappoint. He had a fantastic rookie year, has grown in each of his three seasons in the NBA, and emerged as one of the top players in the game. KD’s also riding a hell of a PR typhoon after the tectonic shift known as The Decision changed, well, everything. LeBron James’ hubris has cut him down from favored status, and in his place now stands Durant, the do-no-wrong king of the upstart Thunder and most recently, medaled national hero.

Not that KD has surpassed LeBron on the court. Whether that’s even a possibility is still to be determined, but at present, no NBAer’s star is more likely to supernova. Durant is that good, and right now he’s sitting on top of the basketball universe.

Unfortunately, that leaves Durant with an awfully long way to fall.

Even if KD’s game is only getting better and better, it’s possible that this is the best it gets for Durant’s image. He’ll win some, he’ll lose some. He’ll fall short of some expectations and shatter others. Yet the longer Durant stays in the NBA, the more time the now-adoring public will have to pick him apart. Even the great ones have their flaws, and in case those flaws aren’t flammable enough on their own, the sports sphere is never short on gasoline.

Durant is the type of talent and person that should be enjoyed. He deserves to be praised, and it’s not surprising that NBA fans have latched on to him as they have. He’s also exactly what he’s pegged as being: just a normal guy.

KD isn’t a megalomaniac, but he’s also mortal, even if his game hints otherwise. The limits and quirks that make Durant so endearing are the same ones that will eventually tarnish him, just as they did with LeBron, and for that matter, with just about every other prominent star that ever laced ’em up. We love NBA players for their flaws, even if with Durant, we haven’t quite realized it yet.

His range is unbelievable, but sometimes he leans too heavily on his jumper as a result. He’s confident in his own abilities, but sometimes tries to do just a bit too much. He’s neck-deep in the game he loves, but maybe that makes him just a bit detached.

Can KD drop 40 with a flick of his wrist? Surely. Is his work ethic so intense that he refuses a proper vacation? Certainly. That doesn’t mean we haven’t been down this road before, with other remarkable men and remarkable athletes. The lesson in all of this isn’t that Durant is spectacularly flawed, even if he ends up being so. It’s not even that the ever-present disconnect between fan and athlete (or media and athlete, for that matter) precludes us from ever really knowing players like Durant.

The takeaway is that the fall is a part of the game (not the game, but the game), and the flaws spotlighted in the process are typically par for the professional athlete course — bloated egos, the obsessive need to control, etc. However, when the beams dim a bit and the glare disappears, we find comfort in those same traits under gentler light. If I can shift metaphors from the stage to the screen: those flaws that endure, through the ups and the downs, put the stars of the NBA in vivid technicolor.

Durant is brilliant, but only because his flaws make him so. Perfection is boring. Limits are everything, even if they exist solely to be bent and broken, set and reset.

Draymond Green tells Kyrie Irving: ‘I know your moves’ (video)

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Only Draymond Green can endearingly brag about his defensive intelligence while admitting getting fooled on a play.

In the Warriors’ blowout win over the Cavaliers last night, Green guarded Kyrie Irving and anticipated the Cleveland guard would go one way. After Irving went the other way to score, the two shared a moment during a stoppage.

“I know your  moves,” Green said.

“I know,” replied Irving, whose vast offensive repertoire allowed him to find an unexpected counter.

Thaddeus Young shakes backboard with dunk on Terrence Jones (video)

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Terrence Jones isn’t much of a rim protector.

Thaddeus Young took advantage.

This ferocious jam helped the Pacers beat the Pelicans, 98-85.

Rudy Gobert block secures Utah’s win over Phoenix (VIDEO)

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At the season’s midway point, Rudy Gobert is probably the leader frontrunner in the Defensive Player of the Year race. Kawhi Leonard will have a say, and there is a lot of basketball yet to play, but Gobert anchors the NBA’s best defense and he is a force in the paint.

Just ask the Phoenix Suns.

Down three with 13 seconds left Monday night, the Suns wanted a three to tie, but when that was not easily open Eric Bledsoe decided to drive for two (then the Suns would foul and extend the game), he was cut off so Bledsoe dished to rookie Marquese Chriss, who went in for the layup — and found the long arms of Gobert. Blocked shot and game over.

Utah is for real, folks.

Three Things We Learned, Cavaliers/Warriors edition: What can we take away from Monday to NBA Finals?

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 16:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers holds his face after being fouled by Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 16, 2017 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The NBA goes big on Martin Luther King Jr. day — as they should — but if you missed the action because you were busy counting to 100,000 for no reason, we’ve got you covered with the key takeaways from the biggest game on the schedule.

And we’re doubling our usual three things we learned to six for a day.

Six things from Warriors’ thrashing of Cavaliers that could play out in NBA Finals.
 Nothing that happens in the regular season guarantees anything come the NBA playoffs, let alone the Finals. Last season’s 73-win Warriors were just the latest in a long line of teams to prove that. Which means we need to be careful reading much into Golden State’s thrashing of Cleveland on Martin Luther King Jr. day. The Finals are a little less than six months away — both of these teams will be different by then (the Cavaliers hope to have a healthy J.R. Smith and Kevin Love by then, for example).  Remember, in January one year ago the Warriors thrashed the Cavaliers on national television, and how did the following Finals turn out?

However, when these teams meet some strategies are tested, little things in the game that we could see — or teams will need to at least account for — come the Finals meeting we all expect. Here are six things from Monday’s game that could well play out in June in the NBA Finals.

1) In the four straight wins the Cavaliers had in this series prior to Monday, they were very aggressive in defending Stephen Curry — they trapped him off picks, were physical, tried to pressure him into decisions to give up the ball, then when Curry tried to make the playground passes that worked against other teams the Cavaliers help defenders made steals and were off in transition the other way. All of that made Curry passive — remember the guy floating on the perimeter taking just 11 shots on Christmas Day?

On Monday night Curry took that pressure in stride, attacked Kyrie Irving from the opening tip (remember Curry’s first possession he blew right by him), used his handles to create space, used his gravity to draw defenders to him, then he whipped smart passes around the floor. In the first half, Curry had 10 assists and zero turnovers. For the game Curry had 20 shots. If he can match that, or even come close, in the Finals, the Cavs are going to struggle to slow this offense down. Like every mortal team has.

2) In January 2016 the Warriors thrashed the Cavaliers on national television, and that was a critical step in the Cavaliers deciding they needed to let David Blatt go, hire Tyronn Lue, and make changes that put them on Golden State’s level. With Monday’s loss, one thing that was evident was the depth of playmaking options the Warriors have and how that can be difficult to guard. Cleveland has two playmakers right now, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. Cavs’ GM David Griffin has talked about wanting to add playmakers, LeBron has called for a backup point guard, but it’s clear whatever position they could use to add another playmaker or two heading into the trade deadline.

3) Can Kevin Durant guard LeBron? Chris Haynes of ESPN with an interesting stat:

The Cavaliers were on the last night of a six-game, 12-day road trip — they were not at their best. LeBron clearly wasn’t. However, if KD can even do a reasonable job on LeBron — or can switch on to him without getting torched — the Warriors will be a lot more comfortable and have more options on defense.

4) How did Warriors handle Kyle Korver? They went right at him and made him play defense, which has never been a strong suit (to put it kindly). The Warriors have enough playmakers that whoever Korver was guarding just went at him, and it worked — particularly during the stretch that saw the Warriors first push their lead north of 20. Korver didn’t have a great shooting night, by June he likely is far more comfortable, but if the Warriors can expose him on the other end it will be hard to keep Korver on the court for extended periods.

5) When JaVale McGee checked in for the Warriors, Tyronn Lue countered with Channing Frye. JaVale is not a strong defender, doesn’t step out away from the basket if he can help it, and the Cavs saw an advantage. JaVale’s offense covered that in this game scoring inside, but it’s something to watch.

6) DeAndre Liggins is a good defender, but he’s more focused on-ball than off, and in the fourth quarter Klay Thompson torched him a few times making Liggins chase him off screens away from the ball. You can be sure Steve Kerr noticed and filed that away.