• Greg Alcala

Kevin Durant is Back


*Photo via USA Today

The Oklahoma City Thunder are currently on a four-game winning streak capped off by a 109-90 victory over the Charlotte Hornets this past Saturday night--their first win of the new year. Kevin Durant, the leading scorer on the Thunder, scored a team-high 29 points on 8-15 shooting, with 11 rebounds and four assists, his 8th double-double of the season. Given Durant’s career track record, this is exactly the kind of performance you can expect from the DC native on a nightly basis and the Thunder as a franchise have benefitted from Durant’s production since he was selected 2nd overall by the Thunder, then the Seattle Sonics, back in 2007.

This is the Durant the world has come to love as the one and only player who can rival Lebron James (I know, Steph Curry) and not too long ago, Durant’s playing career moving forward, was at risk. Last season, Durant would endure the most frustrating year of his career. After winning the MVP award just a season ago, Durant spent most of his 2014-15 season on the mend rather than on the court.

In October, he had surgery to repair a jones fracture in his right foot, and was expected to miss six weeks. Instead, Durant would miss the first 17 games of the season and played in only 27 total games for the year. In March, Durant decided to undergo bone graft surgery missing the remainder of the 2014-15 season.

Durant became the first reigning NBA MVP to follow-up his MVP season with an injury since Bill Walton in 1978. The Thunder would miss the playoffs all while Russell Westbrook went berserk, recording four consecutive triple-doubles, putting the league on notice. Durant, on the other hand, was at an all-time low.

*Photo via USA Today

“The toughest year I’ve ever had playing basketball,” Durant told SI.com. And who could argue with that? This is the same superstar who scored 66 points at the famed Rucker Park in Harlem, NY and starred in a Nike ad traveling OKC to play pick-up with just about everybody. He loves the game, and last season, injuries took him away from it.

To get back to his former self, Durant embarked on a four-to-six month rehab-recovery process, which included a lot of X-Rays, a lot of rest and a lot of shooting. “Every day I tell myself we're going to look back on this and smile and laugh at it and recognize this is just an obstacle we had to climb over to get to where we want to get to," Durant told SI.com. On the path to recovery, Durant endured some intensive workouts, often accompanied by teammate, Westbrook in a Los Angeles gym in July, according to Anthony Slater of NewsOK.com.

These workouts allowed KD to test out his right foot by cutting, jumping, obviously running and of course dunking. And while KD worked on everything tailored to validating the health of his right foot, most of his teammates joined him in LA to workout, building chemistry which was deemed “Thunder University,” according to Uproxx/Dime Magazine.com. Other than the 2016 offseason when Durant will be an unrestricted free agent with a very difficult decision to make, this past 2015 summer was one of Durant’s most significant.

Questions like, “Would he be the same player?” and “Will he ever be healthy again?” needed to be answered going forward and it would all point to how well his rehab and recovery went. When KD showed up to training camp-reportedly fully cleared, playing without restriction and in 5-on-5, you can bet Thunder general manager Sam Presti, who made the announcement, the organization and just about everybody in the state of Oklahoma breathed a sigh of relief together. Not only did it give Durant a chance to come back to the game better than ever before, but it also gave the six-time All-Star a chance to observe. Durant watched LaMarcus Aldridge sign with the San Antonio Spurs.

He watched Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals. Durant was given the luxury to watch the NBA take shape and in the process focu6 on getting back to the player he’s been his whole life. In the second game of the Thunders 2016 NBA season, we saw that player that we all recognize as one of the most lethal scorers in the game.

*Photo via USA Today

Durant torched the Orlando Magic for 43 points in a 139-136 double overtime shootout. Durant shot 15-30 from the field, shot 10-11 from the free-throw line, grabbed 12 boards and also drained the three that sent the game into its first overtime late in the fourth. There was no sign of a player returning from three foot surgeries in six months.

Durant shot the ball at will, played off-the-ball effectively, created for his teammates and most of all entertained like all the elite players do. He rewarded all in attendance and looked like the KD we all knew before his health became a significant factor. KD is probably capable of scoring 43 a night, but to do it in the second game of the season showed that he was fully back.

After 28 games, Durant is averaging 26.6 ppg, 4.6 assists and 7.4 rebounds a game on 51 percent shooting, the highest of his career. He’s third in the league in scoring, behind Stephen Curry and James Harden and Player Efficiency Rating, following Curry and Westbrook. He has already eclipsed the total number of points he scored last season through the same number of games, 744 to 686. In today’s world, it could be difficult to acknowledge that there are other great players besides Curry but there’s no denying Durant is still one of the best players in the world. A healthy KD is every bit worth the price of admission. He can go off for 50 if he wants to and having guard skills at his height (6’9) -when he’s locked in-is still basketball heaven.

With Durant back in the lineup, the Thunder are exactly where they should be. They are leading the Northwest division, boasting a 26-12 record and are positioned 3rd in the Western Conference standings. The Thunder are built to win now and Durant’s health is the only way OKC will have a shot in a top heavy Western Conference.

Recently, Durant sat out Monday’s game due to a sprained right big-toe that he suffered against the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday and was listed out for Wednesday’s game against the Grizzlies, which could change according to ESPN.com. Kobe Bryant is retiring and for the most part it seems like this is Curry’s era as his Warriors are the favorites to win it all this year. Lebron James, now 31 is still the best player in the game. The NBA is filled with stars but there is only one KD.

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