Before we get to the highlights of the hyper-efficient 19-shot, 40-point eruption Kevin Durant put on the Nuggets last night in Denver, let's make a deal. I'll grant that, yeah, it came against a terrible team whose own coach has accused it of tanking, if the sorts of readers who'd be inclined to dismiss a 40-points-on-19-shots performance in an NBA game will acknowledge that they'd be lucky to duplicate that scoring efficiency playing against their imaginations in an empty gym. Okay? Okay.
Only Kevin Durant can quite do this. Not just the gaudy scoring total, or even the statistical efficiency. There's a kind of physical economy to last night's outburst that's either funny or terrifying or both, once you notice it: how little time the ball spends in his hands, how little contact he absorbs, how little he actually does. Like it's nothing at all. His 40 points represent, what, like 30 total seconds of work, in a 48-minute game.
Usually when people say that a basketball player makes the game look effortless, they're referring to a smooth shooting stroke or a laconic style of movement. Durant, when he's in the kind of groove he hit last night, doesn't just make scoring baskets look effortless: he's quite evidently putting almost no physical effort into it. The best example is the three-pointer at 0:34 in the video; Russell Westbrook passes the ball to Durant at the top of the key, and by the time your eye catches up to it, it's on the way to the hoop. A slight shiver moves up Durant's body; in the time it takes me to think of my own name, it's gone from his toes to his ankles to his knees to his hips to his back to his shoulders to his elbows to his wrists to his fingertips, and he's just flicking the ball away from him, a casual little gesture appropriately reminiscent of—and no more laborious than—the little wrist flap that might accompany a dissmissive pfft if somebody said something stone-dumb to you. (Like, for example, "Now I will defend Kevin Durant.") There's more time and mechanical effort involved in me glancing at my own goddamn hand.
Durant's missed a bunch of games this season, and not quite been himself much of the rest of the time. That's exposed the talent-poverty of the rest of OKC's non-Russ rotation, and/or coach Scott Brooks's inability to get much out of players who can't score baskets as easily as the rest of us shed skin cells; as a result, the Thunder are sitting a game-and-a-half out of the West's eighth playoff spot. A vintage Durant performance like last night's suggests the reigning MVP might be finding his stride, and that's an ominous portent for the handful of teams jostling for spots in a Western bracket that can't fit them all.
Or anyway, it sure as hell sucked for the poor Nuggets. Kevin Durant isn't like the rest of us.
Photo via Getty, video via YouTube