Kevin Durant was the best player on the court Friday night in Boston.
That should scare the hell out of the rest of the East and the NBA.
It was his second game back after missing 18 months and an entire season with a torn Achilles, and while he was not moving at pre-injury speeds, Durant is still a 7-foot sharpshooter with a release over his head covers up any step he may have lost. And he may not have lost that much, against Boston (and against Washington earlier in the week) Durant showed he still has the skill and enough explosiveness to get to the rim.
Kevin Durant put that all on display against Boston as he both shot over the top of some defenders and blew by others to get to the bucket. Durant shot 9-of-16 from the floor (56.3%) and 2-of-5 from three.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) December 19, 2020
It’s just preseason, so take everything with a grain of salt, but that Durant would make the Brooklyn Nets serious title contenders.
And Durant said he was not all the way back yet, via the New York Daily News:
“I was out for 18 months not playing an NBA game, not playing against that physicality, the speed of the game,” Durant told The Daily News. “So it’s gonna take me some time to get my feet up under me, get my legs right.”
The question with Brooklyn was never talent, it was the health of its stars.
Kyrie Irving played just 20 games last season and had shoulder surgery, part of a long injury history in his career, but he has looked healthy through two preseason games. His league-best handles are still there — Irving can create space either for a three or to get to the rim against the best defenders. Plus, he’s an underrated playmaker.
Brooklyn also has fantastic talent around Durant and Irving. Caris LeVert dropped a 51 spot last season (against those very Celtics) and was considered a fringe All-Star level player — and he is coming off the bench. Spencer Dinwiddie is another near All-Star at the guard spot, Joe Harris is as good a sharpshooter as there is in the game (and he just got paid like it), and the Nets have two quality rim-running bigs in DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen. (Some or much of that talent may be shipped to Houston in a James Harden trade, but right now that deal is nowhere close to getting done.)
Kevin Durant, however, was the lynchpin to Brooklyn’s title dreams.
Durant was the best player walking the face of the earth for the two years before his injury — he had stared down LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the Finals and outplayed him. KD has two rings and two Finals MVPs. Could Durant get back to that level or close to it after suffering the most devastating injury a basketball player can face and missing more than a year of hoops?
The answer, after just two preseason games, appears to be yes, he can.
Against Washington in the first game, Durant came out and shot right over the top of Rui Hachimura. We saw that a lot in the last two games, Durant pulling up and shooting over the top of a defender, or backing a defender down then using a little fadeaway to create enough space to get his shot off — and draining it. It was vintage Durant from before his injury on display again.
KD gets to his SPOT. pic.twitter.com/k4aWqeCn2a
— NBA (@NBA) December 19, 2020
How good can these Nets be? Against Washington, in their first shift together, Durant and Irving combined for 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting — they outscored the Wizards for the quarter. With Irving and Durant, the Nets will have a devastating starting five — as long as they play good defense — and they will bring Dinwiddie and LeVert in with the second unit.
Brooklyn is a championship contender.
So long as the Durant that showed up in Boston on Friday night can keep it rolling all season and into the playoffs.