Kevin Durant has played absolutely brilliant basketball so far this season. Stretched out over the course of an entire campaign, his sorts of contributions would easily put him in the race for All-NBA honors, a second consecutive MVP award, and less importantly but no less appreciated: A well-deserved All-Star berth.
Durant hasn’t played as much as he’d like to, this season, because of a pair of worrying foot and toe ailments. Kevin will return on Friday as his Oklahoma City Thunder take on the New Orleans Pelicans, but that appearance will mark just the 23rd appearance in OKC’s 50-game season thus far. On top of that, the team’s coaching staff has intelligently held Durant back during games out of fears that he could re-injure either his foot or toe. Entering the Pelicans game, the 2014 NBA MVP has averaged just 33 minutes a contest, down about five and a half from last season.
Possibly mindful of this, NBA fans did not vote Durant into the starting lineup in the All-Star Game. The NBA’s coaches, in a weird value reversal of fame vs. on-court participation, did vote him in as a reserve. That move led to many to cry out in favor of the inclusion of either DeMarcus Cousins (who was eased into the Game by commissioner Adam Silver as an injury replacement) or Portland’s Damian Lillard.
Durant has no doubt heard the criticism, which is why he offered this half-joke on Friday afternoon:
Kevin Durant on his All-Star selection: "Whoever want my spot can play me one-on-one for it"
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 6, 2015
Kevin is not really completely kidding, here. He’s really giving any other Western Conference All-Star also-ran a “come at me, bro,” and that’s fantastic.
Many were and are rightfully on the fence about Durant’s inclusion. For the fans to vote in the reigning MVP with a popular vote is one thing, but it was surprising to see the coaches act the part of a fanboy and go with a player whose skill-set is perfect for this exhibition game (and any other sort of game, really) just because they want to see him there.
Not only is Durant averaging only 33 minutes a contest, but when coaches’ reserve ballots were counted last week, the Thunder swingman had only played in 21 out of his team’s 46 contests. Even with good health between now and the break, Kevin will have still played in less than half of his team’s games – 26 out of 53.
Still, he’s Kevin Durant.
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Nothing against the brilliant Lillard (who has struggled terribly over his last ten games, shooting just over 34 percent from the field) or the marvelous Cousins, the confident Monta Ellis or the legendary Dirk Nowitzi, but Kevin Durant could probably bust all of these guys in a game to 21, win by two. By “all these guys” I also mean “probably anyone on the Western Conference All-Stars,” including types like Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, and James Harden who are expected to vie for Durant’s MVP crown this spring. No player is more dangerous in an isolation situation than Kevin Durant, whether you’re looking at this statistically or through the “yeah, that guy is super-tall and with ridiculous skills”-test.
Of course, that’s not the point. While a hypothetical play-in tournament would have hoopheads like us more than giddy, the point of the All-Star Game is to reward individual players for their work in that particular season up until the end of the voting deadline. Not for past honors, not for team success, not because we like watching them more than other deserving players, and certainly not (as is clearly the case with the coaching vote for Durant) because we weirdly expect them to stay healthy for the remainder of the season.
Everyone (outside of Phoenix, perhaps) wants to see Durant stay healthy for the remainder of the season, and if he continues on this course this level of production mixed with appearances in 55 of Oklahoma City’s 82 games might be enough to warrant him a spot on one of the All-NBA Teams. Here’s hopin’.
With that in place, it’s just fine for players (especially perennial All-Stars who don’t receive bonuses for All-Star Game appearances) to miss an All-Star Game or All-NBA Team inclusion during one random year because of a fluke injury gone wrong. It wouldn’t have been a damning thing for us, years from now, to briefly wonder why Kevin Durant didn’t make the 2015 NBA All-Star Game before remembering, “oh, yeah, that was the Bum Foot Year.” It’s OK, guys.
What would be more than OK would be to watch a one-on-one tournament featuring Kevin Durant. Keep that gem in mind when you’re yawning at yet another missed alley-oop during the actual All-Star Game.
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