Analysis: Cast as NBA's villain, Durant proves to be hero


Analysis: Cast as NBA's villain, Durant proves to be hero

There is forever a pocket of Americans eager to cast villains without regard to facts, much less rational perspective. We’re mere weeks away from discovering what this means for Kevin Durant.

Durant is, by nearly every measure, devoted to his community and his country. The star forward’s latest public contribution came Sunday, when he scored 30 points to lead the U.S. Men’s National Basketball Team to victory in the gold medal game of the Rio Olympics.

As if that were not enough, he even placed his hand over heart while standing on the medal stand during the playing of our national anthem.

Durant, men’s basketball MVP of these Olympics, is an American hero, yes? A source of national pride and someone we can all appreciate – or at least it would seem.

Well, maybe not.

[POOLE: Durant powers Team USA past Serbia, to third straight gold medal]

The Warriors open their season in a couple months, and the most debated storyline is the arrival of Durant, joining incumbent All-Stars Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Though Warriors fans are, by consensus, wrapping their arms around the new guy, if not singing his name while in the shower, there is within parts of the hoops community an undercurrent of scorn directed at Durant.

That sentiment started growing after Durant, a free agent, announced on July 4th that he was leaving a very good Oklahoma City team to sign with the even better Warriors. Cue the knee-jerk narratives: KD sold out. KD is a quitter. KD abandoned his really nice horse to hop aboard a nicer one. KD left his faithful wife of 35 years to run off with a 23-year-old porn star.

Durant didn’t actually leave his wife; he isn’t married. Yet much of the reaction to Durant’s move, even beyond OKC, is of that which follows fresh scandal. His decision to leave the heartland and come to the Bay Area is being spun by some who claim it is the move of an ingrate. A scoundrel.

Kevin Durant is, to them, The Villain.

Never mind the facts. The newest Warrior was drafted in 2007 by Seattle, which a year later moved to Oklahoma City without asking Durant’s opinion. Durant spent eight years in OKC, giving much and taking only what he earned as the best player on the Thunder. He was there for local tornado victims. He was there for hungry citizens, stamping his name on a popular sports-themed restaurant/bar. He also could be found on the court, sometimes uncovered, watching teammate Russell Westbrook launching jumpers from Nevada.

So, for the first time in his career, Durant cast any eye toward other potential employers. He then exercised the right to work elsewhere.

And now he’s The Villain?

[RELATED: What they're saying: Team USA captures gold in Rio]

Durant’s move has been described as bad for the NBA. Or weak. There was, in Oklahoma, the now-ritual burning of the jerseys.

Though it’s understandable folks in OKC would lash out in response to being hurt – Durant’s departure is a powerful blow to a place that has, among American metropolitan areas, a bit of an inferiority complex – the noise beyond is senseless.

Durant is the NBA MVP who 27 months ago, during his televised acceptance of the award, turned to his mother and tearfully referred to her as “the real MVP.” Class move by a guy who “got it.” He was praised, rightfully so, for recognizing context and commenting on it.

And there he was in Rio, filling the performance void left by Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, an international veteran whose production fell short of his dedication. Durant not only put points on the board, he also lit a fire under his teammates.

At a time when so many in America are marking lines and advocating for building walls, Durant was unifying Team USA – the most talented team in these Olympics – and pulling it together, ensuring it fulfilled its goal. No one is more responsible than he for adding gold to the red, white and blue.

Will that matter when Durant suits up with Curry & Co. once the season starts?

It should. In the wake of Durant’s personal history and now his stellar Olympics work, casting him as a basketball villain seems not only misguided but also asinine.

Seven records Warriors stars Steph Curry, Draymond Green could break

Seven records Warriors stars Steph Curry, Draymond Green could break

Editor's note: Grant Liffmann (@grantliffmann) is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 90 minutes before each home game and 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.

The juggernaut Warriors of the last five years are no longer, but some key star holdovers have a chance to reach some NBA records this season.

With the departures of Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and the injury to Klay Thompson, the playmaking and scoring for the Warriors will mostly fall on the shoulders of Steph Curry, Draymond Green and newly acquired D'Angelo Russell. So as the construction of the team changed dramatically, the Warriors now potentially face a struggle to play the same suffocating defense most have come accustomed to.

Instead, they will rely on a high-powered offense and individual key defensive players to lead the charge. Here are some records that they could break this season.

Most 3-pointers in a regular season: Steph Curry 402 (2015-16)

The biggest key to Curry toppling his own historic 3-point season will be staying healthy and in the lineup. Curry has not played over 70 games in a season since 2016-17, and played 79 games when he shattered the season record.

Since the Warriors might have to outscore teams in shootouts with their defense less reliable, Curry will be able to fire away with abandon. Curry hit 354 3-pointers in just 69 games last season. If he played 10 extra games and maintained his average 3-point rate, he would have broken his record.

So what else could help Curry break 402? Well, just keep reading ...

3-point attempts per game: James Harden 13.2 (2018-19)

When Curry made 402 3-pointers, he averaged 11.2 attempts per game. Last season, he averaged a career-high 11.7 3-point attempts per game. Shooting two more 3s per game is within reason, and definitely a welcome proposition for all Warriors fans. 

Most consecutive games with 5+ 3-pointers made: James Harden 12 (2018-19)

The more Steph shoots, the more he makes. Harden might be watching a few of his milestones surpassed this season.

Most 3-pointers attempted in a game: Klay Thompson 24 (Oct. 29, 2018)

Most 3-pointers made in a game: Klay Thompson 14 (Oct. 29, 2018)

Curry already jokingly (probably) proclaimed that he would shoot 22 3-pointers on opening night against the Clippers. So would you be surprised if he had a few games this season in which he launched endlessly from long range? Unfortunately for Klay, he will have to sit idly on the bench for most of the season while Curry goes after his record.

[RELATED: Steph Curry primed for another MVP season]

Most steals in a game: Larry Kenon 11 (Dec. 26, 1976), Kendall Gill 11 (April 3, 1999)

The defensive category belongs to Draymond Green, and after signing a $100 million extension and getting into the best shape of his life, he is primed for a breakout season. If last playoffs are any indicator of how he will play next season, then there are several defensive records and milestones that can be within his sights.

On Feb. 10, 2017, Green recorded a triple-double in Memphis. But it was not just any triple-double, it included 10 steals, one away from the single-game record. There will be many games next season that he will carry the team defensively, so perhaps he approaches the record again.

200 steals plus 100 blocks in one season: Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Scottie Pippen

In 2016-17, Green set a career-high 154 steals and blocked 106 shots -- down from his previous career-high of 113 the year prior. Remaining healthy and in the lineup for most of the season will be imperative for Green to even have a chance at approaching a 200-100 season.

It still is a long shot for Draymond to reach those totals, but when he is in shape, motivated and playing with fire, there's always a chance. 

Kevin Durant rocks Nets jersey for first time since leaving Warriors

Kevin Durant rocks Nets jersey for first time since leaving Warriors

Slowly but surely, Kevin Durant is moving on from the Warriors. 

After electing to sign with the Brooklyn Nets in free agency. Durant expressed his feelings on his time in the Bay, including the elation of winning the NBA Finals and the belief that he never would be accepted in the same way Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala were.

The next step in Durant's quest to move on from the Warriors came Thursday when he donned the black and white of Brooklyn for the first time in a promotional shoot.

Seeing KD rocking a No. 7 Nets jersey is ... a little weird.

Those jerseys are clean, though,

Durant won't see the floor this season as he continues to rehab from the ruptured Achilles he suffered in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Once Durant is back to 100 percent, he'll join Kyrie Irving and a band of young Nets trying to take over the Eastern Conference.

[RELATED: Steph fires back at KD after criticism of Warriors offense]

As for the Warriors, they remade their roster after Durant's exit and will be looking to go back to their roots with a ball-movement centric attack that lets Curry, new addition D'Angelo Russell and Thompson -- when he returns from his torn ACL -- torment opposing defenses.