New Rights for the Venom Trees
Knowing about the Durant/Arenas game got me all thinking about exactly what kind of psychological profile Durant could bring to this fair sport of ours. We've all noticed what a scalding competitor the young man can be, while at the same time exuding almost awkward calm. PCA described his immediate presence to me as "pleasant, not an inner rage or anything, but always focused," and Billups once expressed concern that Durant might be retarded. I've lately been somewhat obsessed with not just the otherworldiness of his game, but with the huh-ness of his story.
While there are multiple reasons to liken Durant to Nowitzki on the court, there's no getting 'round the fact that both were engineered by their coaches to be both exceptional and perfect. Of course, difference is that Dirk was a product of Teutonic fiber and the loopy, cosmic side of post-war Germany. Durant was devised in the heart of the city, kept off the streets and turned out immune to the siren song that bloated up so many other high school notables. The Sonics' gem is innocent, childlike, and sometimes shy; part of this is age, but you've got to figure that, due to circumstance, he just spends a lot of time with his head off somewhere else. And that somewhere else, per PCA's observations, would have to be basketball.
Not saying that he spends all day contemplating post position, but that ringing in his head is basketball's higher calling. The same way LeBron feels compelled to take over the known universe. If it's true that Durant is known as "The Second Coming," the givers of names got thing backwards. LeBron is trying to usher in a Messianic age of unknown performance and media synthesis. Durant is strictly first-time-around JC, with a devotion to his craft that, for those willing to believe, carries the hint of a world refreshed and renewed. Pardon me if I've said this before, but LeBron is here to vouch for basketball as a force; Durant's all about reminding us why we love the game, which arguably should come before the transformation. Actually, even if you want to make Durant into Paul, he's still the stepping stone to the inevitable Reign of Bron.
What I really want to get at, though, is the Arenas/Durant contrast, since Gil has branded himself the "East Coast Assassin" and Durant is Storm Shadow, bordering on Snake Eyes. When Arenas calls himself an "assassin," he means something pretty basic: Give him a pressure situation, and he will step up and murk you. Throat slash, game over, and so on and so forth. In the Arenas mythos, the assassinating is inseparable from Swag, which is to say, he wills himself to victory through sheer insouciance. In Arenas's silence, his momentary pause, there's an entire world of jawing and confidence waiting to explode forth. There may not be any need to ever make it explicit--hell, even Swag involves a certain degree of mocking understatement—but fundamentally, it's about one man's basketball ego, and how much momentum it can generate for itself.
In Durant's case, I don't see someone driven by a sense of his own powers. Nor is it the kind of reptilian functionality we see in Duncan or Brand, where one can rise to the occasion as if it were a particularly inspired version of going through the motions. What fascinates me so much about Durant is what a paradox his fire seems to be. Demure but ruthless. Impervious yet stricken. Neat inside a monster. In some ways, he inverts the Arenas formula; whereas Gilbert finds a second of calm while dispensing the death-blow, Durant seemingly rolls with fate until its time for him to seize absolute control of it. Whether it's from one play to the next, or within the space of single possession, it's hard to understand how an athlete can be both so brutal and so pleasant.
Which is exactly why it would have been so fascinating to see Durant and Ray Ray on one team. Allen is, at least in spirit, somewhat close to these qualities I perceive in KD's game. Of course Allen is far slicker, and a lot less prone to utter panoramic infliction. Yet we've all seen Allen absolutely positively bombard some teams, acting like nothing's new until the exact second he hits the next three, or dances into the lane. Calling Allen a "class act" kind of misses the point of his game, how it appears to opponents. He's not a nice guy with a rapier; he's someone who doesn't even give his own bad-assedness a thought except for when he's making use of it. He lets the game come to him, but when it does, he pounces and tears out veins.