James World, Vol. 11: Durant more than an MVP

With Kevin Durant emerging as the MVP front-runner, Chicago Bulls guard Mike James explains why Durant will go down as the greatest offensive player ever. (Photo: Alonzo Adams/AP)

Having scored 30 or more points in nine-straight games, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant has emerged as the NBA’s MVP front-runner. In this week’s column, Chicago Bulls guard Mike James explains why Durant will go down as the greatest offensive player ever.

Two years ago, I was the first person to say that Kevin Durant will probably go down in history as the best scorer to ever play the game of basketball. C’mon, he’s six-foot-11 with more than a seven-foot wingspan, he can handle the ball, he can go right, he can go left and he has a great jump shot. So there aren’t too many things a defender can do.

When you’re an offensive player, teams scout your weaknesses and try to take away your strengths. They’ll cut off your right hand or your left and make you play in a way that you’re really not comfortable with. Well, you can’t do that with Kevin Durant. He can hit the 15-footer, he can hit the three, he can post-up, he’s athletic, he’ll dunk on you, he has heart and he’s relentless. Put everything together and you have one deadly scorer. He’s so dangerous with the ball in his hands and his jump shot is so efficient that as a defence you have to double-team him to make it fair.

Sure, Russell Westbrook is out right now, but that’s not why Durant’s numbers are up. Before Westbrook came back at the beginning of the season, Kevin was struggling, shooting a lot of poor shots. Now he’s got a rhythm.

It definitely takes some of the pressure away from Durant when Westbrook plays. With Westbrook on the court defences have to play honest, and now that he’s out, you can see other teams keying in on Durant because they know the ball is going to him.

Durant knows everybody is keying on him but his confidence is so high that he really doesn’t care if you put three people on him.

When you’re on a scoring tear like he is, all it comes down to is confidence and rhythm. You’re seeing that ball go in the hole, you’re feeling comfortable with the ball in your hands—your dribbling is sharper and more efficient—and you’re seeing what you want to do before you do it. You’re not questioning whether a particular move is going to work. You have 100 percent belief in your skills and in your work.

That’s where Durant is at now: His work is taking over his game. You can tell he works hard, because hard-working guys are the most efficient—he’s showing that now.

When we play the Thunder, we talk about not giving him any easy shots. When you’re playing against a scorer like that, the one thing you don’t want to do is foul him and get him on the free throw line and give him easy baskets and open looks. You know they want their points, but you have to make them earn every single basket—hands in their face, good defense, make them put the ball on the floor. When you make them work for everything, that’s going to frustrate and fatigue them. You also want to make them play defense, make sure that they’re matched up against somebody who is going to make them work and tire them out on the opposite end of the floor.

When I think of the most natural scorer I’ve ever played with, the first two names that come to mind are Paul Pierce and Tracy McGrady. I think T-Mac was ultimately a better scorer than Paul. When you’re six-foot-nine and play the two, there are going to be so many mismatches for you. Especially when you can handle the ball like T-Mac could, because it means you can get to your spot whenever you want.

I played with him in his prime in Houston, and he was definitely one of those guys who was hard to guard and contain. You have to remember that at that time in his career there was serious debate as to who was the best player in the NBA, him or Kobe. He was a great scorer, but Kevin Durant is so smooth and efficient. He’s definitely going to go down as the greatest scorer to ever play the game.

Reader Question

Hey Mike, glad to hear you’re back with the Bulls. Was there ever talk about you signing with another team, or did you know that you’d be returning to Chicago? And how did your teammates react to the news? —Jason, North York

My teammates were happy I was back. I’ve built a relationship with them, not only this season but from the previous season, so they were happy for me and to see me back in the locker room.

I didn’t think I was going to go back to Chicago. I was talking to other teams, basically trying to get things together. But there nobody was stepping up and making a decision; it was all just talk. Chicago was the first team to make a decision and bring me back. Being familiar with the city and the team, everything has worked out.

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