When we think about Kevin Durant, we think about his offense. When we discuss his dominance as the second-best player in basketball, we speak about his offensive impact – how utterly unstoppable a 6-foot-11 player (with a 7-foot-4 wingspan) who can shoot, attack the rim, and has guard-like mobility on the perimeter is.
It makes sense that Durant’s offense is at the forefront of our conversations; he’s one of the greatest scorers in basketball history. By the time he retires, he’ll probably be regarded as the greatest. Durant is more than just a scorer, though. He’s a willing and capable passer, though that’s a different discussion for a different article.
What we shouldn’t allow ourselves to do is underrate Durant’s impact on the defensive end. Doing so would be easy, and it’s happened before. It happens with Michael Jordan; we talk about Jordan’s 10 scoring titles, his game-winning shots, his jaw-dropping, gravity defying finishes at the rim. We seldom speak of his nine All-Defensive First Team selections or his Defensive Player of the Year award. We talk about his passing even less; did you know that he had an eight-assists-per-game season? The GOAT was no ball hog.
We do the same thing with Durant. We talk about his four scoring titles. We don’t talk about the fact that he, a small forward, led the Warriors in blocks per game this season with 1.6, and also averaged over a steal a game.
We don’t make this mistake with LeBron James. LeBron doesn’t consider himself a “scorer” the way that Durant is or Jordan was. His scoring ability is matched by his prowess as a passer. LeBron James is a Jack of all trades to the highest degree. He’s an all-time great as a scorer, passer and defender.
Durant is different. His scoring is what sets him apart from any player to have come before him. He’s not the generational passing talent that James is, nor is he the indomitable defender that Kawhi Leonard is. Don’t mistake Durant for being a one-dimensional player, though; he’s far from it. His ability to score is just so breathtakingly effortless that it somewhat overshadows the other facets of what is a very well-rounded game.
To say that Durant’s scoring ability is matched by his defensive ability would be untrue, and would be to undersell his offense. However, Durant’s defense – not his offense – may be the most important factor in leading the Warriors to a championship.
After the Warriors’ game 1 dominance, we did what we always do with Durant – talked about his impact on the offensive end. That talk was certainly warranted; Durant scored 38 points on 14-26 shooting and dished out eight assists without committing a single turnover.
Durant’s defense will be equally as important as his offense in this series. In signing Durant, the Warriors got not only the NBA’s best scorer but also somebody new to throw at LeBron James on defense. Andre Iguodala has done well on James, but Durant is a better matchup. Durant is about as well-equipped to guard James as one can be. Durant’s freakish, seemingly created-in-a-lab-to-play-basketball body is what makes him such an unstoppable scorer, but it’s also the key to his elite defense.
The Cavs’ only chance at beating the Warriors is and always has been LeBron James dominating the series. That’s how they did it last year. Yes, Kyrie Irving was phenomenal, but Cleveland wouldn’t have had a chance in hell if LeBron James hadn’t been by far the best player on the court. Now that the Warriors have Durant to slow James down, we could be looking at a sweep. James wasn’t the best player on the floor in game 1. It was Kevin Durant.
Durant has perhaps the best mobility ever seen from a player of his height (though Giannis Antetokounmpo is in a similar category). Durant’s guard-like agility allows him to stay with James on the perimeter and as James drives to the rim. Then, once James gets to the rim, finishing over Durant’s superior length far from an easy task; Durant has three inches of height and around four inches of wingspan on James.
James is at his most dangerous when he’s consistently looking to get to the rim. More often than not he can finish and/or draw a foul at the rim. Durant’s unique blend of lateral quickness and size gives him an inimitable defensive advantage.
Durant’s defensive impact in game 1 was apparent; LeBron shot under 50 percent from the field and turned the ball over eight times. LeBron James will never be fully neutralized, but if Durant can continue to hold him to games like he had in game 1, the Cavs may not win a single game this series.