OKC Thunder: Metta World Peace, then Ron Artest, taught Kevin Durant a lesson in 2010
Durant was a budding star when Artest introduced the youngster to intense, playoff basketball.
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When a slew of the league's stoutest defenders followed in subsequent playoff series, Durant was ready. He began to understand how to play against physicality and entered each series more prepared for it.
Since Artest in 2010, Durant has battled a who's who list of the league's best defenders: Wilson Chandler, Arron Afflalo, Tony Allen, Shane Battier, Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd.
“It's been guys that were smaller than me, that were taller, that were more athletic, and stronger,” Durant said. “But it's just a matter of how I approach it and how I come in here and work and in the games how I pick and choose my spots. Sometimes it really doesn't matter who defends you. Of course those are great defenders. But I always got to be locked in on what I got to do to score and make the right play instead of who's guarding me.”
Rarely has a 23-year-old player faced so many formidable playoff foes. The experience has sped Durant's learning curve and, perhaps, put the Thunder on the fast track to a title.
No longer is Durant walking into unfamiliar territory. And for Durant, knowledge on the basketball court has boosted his powers. He's more in tune to the finer things like setting up his man more precisely, curling off screens harder and holding his position longer.
“He has a better understanding of how important where he catches it is as opposed to just concentrating on whether he makes the shot or not,” said Nick Collison. “There's so many things that go into a play before he can make a shot and he's picked those things up.”
Now, Durant is more equipped to do battle.
“I'm growing, man,” Durant explained. “I've been here for five years and I've seen a lot. I'm just trying to keep improving mentally.”