Posted Oct 6 2010 11:42AM
It's purely hypothetical, but it's the ultimate question regarding individual basketball talent and potential. If you could start a franchise today with one player, who would it be?
According to the league's general managers, for the past four years, the answer to that question was LeBron James. In NBA.com's 2009 GM Survey, James received 79 percent of the votes on that question, with Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard receiving the other 21 percent. And not a single GM thought the answer should be 21-year-old Kevin Durant.
Then Durant went out and averaged a league-best 30.1 points a game last year while improving dramatically on defense. He led the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 27-win improvement and the franchise's first playoff berth in five years. And in the postseason, the Thunder gave the eventual champion Lakers their toughest challenge before The Finals.
During the summer, Durant took on the challenge that neither James nor Bryant nor Howard wanted to face. He put the U.S. National Team on his back and led it to its first World Championship gold medal since 1994, scoring 99 points on 57 percent shooting over the final three games.
So by the time this year's GM Survey was distributed, the league's executives had a new favorite . While every other franchise had to be envious of Miami's free agency haul, Oklahoma City has the guy that the top basketball minds want most. A few weeks after Durant returned from Istanbul, more than half of league's GMs said that he was the guy that they would want to start a franchise.
Durant is 22 years old now. Howard turns 25 in early December and James turns 26 a few weeks after that. Dwyane Wade, who received a vote this season, is 28. Bryant, who is still earning votes on the franchise question, is 32.
But clearly, the votes for Durant were about more than just age. They were also about his skill, his work ethic, his competitiveness, and the potential for him to be one of the greatest scorers in NBA history.
Durant's breakout year didn't just make a mark on that one question in the survey. No GMs thought he would win the MVP last year, but he finished second to James. Now, two-thirds of the GMs believe the award will be his next May.
Not a single GM thought Durant was the best small forward in the league last season, but now 29 percent of them do. And he even received votes as the league's best shooting guard and best power forward.
More than half of the GMs also believe that the Thunder are the most fun team to watch in the league. None of them thought so last year.
Durant also picked up votes in five other categories where he received none last year: The player who forces coaches to make the most adjustments (11 percent), the best pure shooter (14 percent), the best at getting his own shot (one vote), the toughest (one vote) and the guy you'd want taking the shot with the game on the line (seven percent).
He'll likely gain more votes in those categories in the years to come. And it's likely he'll own the "start a franchise" question for a few years as well.
Last year, the GMs did vote Durant as the player most likely to have a breakout season.
They got that one right.
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