Kevin Durant led Team USA with 22 points against France on Sunday, and you can look for that trend to continue. He is the best pure shooter and scorer on Team USA (frankly, the best in the world), his role on this team is to score.
And LeBron James wants him doing more of it.
While Durant led the 2010 Team USA to a FIBA World Championship, this is a different squad and at the start Durant looked at all the talent around him and started to pass up shots to other guys.
“I told KD (Durant) to just be himself,” LeBron James said Sunday after Durant led the U.S. with 22 points and added nine rebounds in a game that was only close for one quarter. “On a team like this you can kind of shy away because there are so many great players here. But KD’s on this team for a reason. He’s one of the best players the world has and he’s a three-time scoring champ. So we don’t want the KD that defers. We want the KD that he is in Oklahoma City.”
It’s not just LeBron.
Said Durant: “Sometimes coach was screaming at me. And Chris Paul was screaming at me more than anybody, ‘Shoot the ball!’ I guess I’ve got to be aggressive.”
James is deferring more and playing a facilitating role with Team USA this Olympics (and through the exhibitions), and Kobe Bryant has deferred more as well. Durant and Carmelo Anthony have been the designated shooters. That said, you know if a big game gets tight a lot of guys would suddenly want the rock.
But there are not going to be a lot of close games, so look for Durant to be the leading scorer and potential MVP of Team USA. LeBron even wants it that way.
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“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.
“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”
That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.
I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?
It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.