Kevin Durant capped the gold-medal final in Rio the same way he did four years ago in London: with an immaculate 30-point performance, shooting better individually from behind the arc than the opposing team did as a collective. With respect to Carmelo Anthony, the most decorated Team USA player, Durant has proved himself, on a per-tournament basis, to be the most devastating offensive player in international basketball history. After Team USA’s 96–66 win over Serbia on Sunday, Durant only trails Melo in the all-time U.S. Olympic scoring column by 25 points — a mark Durant could easily clear in 2020, should he choose to compete. He’d be only 31 then.
But the Olympics are only a slice of the pie. Durant’s bonafides on the world stage extend further out. Durant, fresh off his first of three consecutive NBA scoring titles in 2010, was the undisputed leader of a 2010 FIBA World Championship team that saw many of the players on the roster for the 2008 Beijing games drop out for rest. From the quarterfinal to the championship game, Durant averaged 33 points on 57.4 percent shooting — that three-game stretch remains one of the best in Team USA history.
Back in 2010, Durant was only months removed from his first playoff series against the Lakers, a matchup that saw him haunted by Ron Artest’s bumping and grinding all the way out on the perimeter. He was nowhere near the dynamic ball-handler he is today, but on a FIBA team that featured the most athletic penetrating guards in the world in Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, and expert Swiss-army-knife types in the frontcourt like Lamar Odom and Andre Iguodala, it didn’t matter. Durant was able to focus on what he did best.
In 2016, he played alongside teammates like Paul George, who assumed the Odom role during these Olympics — taking pride in his incapacitating defense, completely erasing Miloš Teodosić, one of the most creative guards in the world. Nowadays, Durant’s repertoire is a bit more advanced. Here he is Shmoney dancing opponents into oblivion out on the perimeter in elimination rounds:
There is a monk-like quality to his commitment to basketball that reveals itself when he plays with all-world talent. “I was telling myself before I left my room that I’m at my best when I don’t care if we win or lose,” Durant said after scoring 27 points against Argentina in the quarterfinal round. Everything has changed in six years time, but Durant has always found serenity on the international stage.
Watching Durant on the national team, casting rains on a whim, it makes his decision to join the Warriors seem like a no-brainer. He’s at his best among the best. Durant has thrived internationally not only in space, but in situations where all he has to do is ride his instincts on the perimeter. Easy Money Sniper isn’t just a questionable social media handle, it’s the role in which Durant knows he’s most effective — shooting from absurd distances, immediately, upon the catch. A defender can’t react fast enough to him, and an outreached hand has never caused an issue. With KD, it’s always been about placement on the court.
A player as good as he is doesn’t always need an ideal situation to thrive, but in a team sport that so often gets reduced to the power of one at the NBA level, success, in its primary, secondary, and tertiary definitions, becomes convoluted. The Warriors offer Durant Occam’s razor. They offer him the feel of a Team USA, where the goal is simple, where it doesn’t really matter how the wins come so long as they do.
The schematics will be different, and Durant won’t have to consistently rise above Team USA’s crude, haphazard offense, but the Durant we saw in Rio — cool, confident, free — is the player we’re liable to see in Oakland a few months from now. It’s just nice to know that the country was able to celebrate Durant’s merits for two weeks before we tear him limb from limb for excelling in the exact same way come November.