For every superstar in the NBA, past and present, there was a defining moment or stretch where they went from being a really good player to a full blown superstar and everyone could see it happening before their eyes. For LeBron James it was his performance against the Detroit Pistons in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. For Isiah Thomas, it was his Game 6 of the 1988 Finals.Well for last year’s MVP, Kevin Durant, that moment was throughout the 2010 FIBA World Championships in Turkey.
It was set up beautifully for Durant. He was going to be the star.
With guys like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, among others, not participating, the 21-year-old Durant was going to be the one of the main options on the team. He doesn’t explode like he does if those other marquee guys were playing, but they weren’t and he took full advantage of it.
Everyone knew Durant was on the verge of becoming a star. The season leading up to the 2010 FIBA World Championships, he made his first All-Star Game and won his first scoring title. He averaged 30. 1 points per game on 47.6 percent shooting while also pulling down 7.6 rebounds. The Thunder had also made some noise in the playoffs, playing the Lakers tough in the first round before losing the series 4-2.
Durant was on a fast path to stardom, but not many people thought it was coming that same summer.
He was solid in the five preliminary round games. He was the leading scorer in two of them and averaged 17.8 points per game. With the US walking all over opponents, Durant only played over 23 minutes once in those first five games.
After the U.S. beat up on Angola 121-66 in the round of 16, it became the Durant show. In the last three games, he was unstoppable and was making a statement on a world stage. He was arriving. He was tired of taking a back seat to the “stars” of the league. He knew he was one of them.
You just saw a different player and as I went over highlights of the tournament, it stood out even more. People really got on Durant early in his career for not playing with an “edge” and often looking like he didn’t care that much. I really think that made him mad and he saw this as a stage to shut those critics up. He was animated after making big shots and just played nasty.
While, he played animated and nasty, Durant also played some of the best basketball of his young career. In the final three games, against Russia, Lithuania, and Turkey, Durant scored 100 points (33.3 average) on 35-for-59 shooting (59 percent) and made 15 three-pointers (seven in the gold medal game).
For the tournament, he averaged 22.1 points per game with 55.6-45.6-91.2 shooting splits in nine games. He was 26-of-57 from 3-point range and as you watched the highlights he just about pulled up from anywhere on anyone. It was video game-esque.
The world took notice those final three games. Durant was going to be a bonafide star. Fast forward to now and that assumption was correct. As we look back, his moment was the 2010 FIBA World Championship.