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ESPN.com Daily Dime – Durant Is A Good Choice To Lead The Thunder

December 14, 2009

3524scr_f44a8a26021dafc_25By Jalen Rose
ESPN The Thunder’s Kevin Durant had another great game Sunday night, scoring 29 points, but LeBron James and the Cavaliers showed Oklahoma City that the Thunder still have a ways to go if they want to be considered among the elite teams in the league.

In a matchup of two of the top scorers in the NBA, James had a season-high 44 points, and showed off his all-around skills by getting seven rebounds, six assists and four steals.

Durant wasn’t a slouch. He had five rebounds, two assists and four steals. Durant is on the cusp of joining LeBron, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade as the players you would most want to build your team around three years from now.

As far as style, Durant reminds me of George Gervin. He has a short memory, shoots it from 3, can post up, gets baskets off screens and in transition, and can handle the ball. He doesn’t expend too much effort and is so smooth. He is only 21, and at 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot wingspan, the sky is the limit for him.

I have heard people say that he needs to bulk up, but I disagree. This isn’t football. Basketball is the ultimate game of skill. Being strong allows you to make a lot of different plays on the court, but when you are 6-10 and play facing the basket, your strength is not as important as your will.

Durant makes plays all over the place. He is averaging more than 28 points and seven rebounds per game. He grabs most of his boards through positioning, will and effort.

After losing to the Cavaliers, the Thunder now have a record of 12-10. If they were in the East, where 10 of the 15 teams have losing records, they’d be considered a good team. MVP candidates will always be judged by wins and losses. From a numbers standpoint and upside standpoint, Durant’s skill set is on the level of any of the top players in the game.

Also, it is not a given that your best player is the leader of the team, but Durant has distinguished himself as the leader of that group. He has stepped up into that role. He has the respect of his coaches and the other 14 guys in the locker room.

The main thing he needs to do is learn how to compete on every play on both ends of the court. When your offense is going well, everybody is willing to get into their defensive stance and play hard to stop their opponent. But when you are not making shots, your defense and energy suffer. Becoming an above-average defender is the next step Durant has to take as he climbs the ladder of superstardom.

I appreciate what the Thunder have done as far as building a team through the draft. They have four players who can really play. That is why they are in position, as a young team, to be as exciting as it gets.

I refer to Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green and James Harden as the “Core Four.” Westbrook is a combo guard who can shoot and handle; like a lot of young guys, he needs to tighten up his decision-making. Green can switch out and guard four different positions. He is strong and tough and doesn’t need the ball to be effective. And Harden is a silky smooth lefty. He is crafty, and he can knock down the 3 or slash and get to the basket.

If the Thunder can get a Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire-type player, they will be contenders in the West. They need a power forward who can draw double-teams, defend the post and rebound his position.

ESPN analyst Jalen Rose is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime.