The Kid Enters the Picture (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday November 6, 2007 12:40PM; Updated: Tuesday November 6, 2007 12:40PM
GAME 1: OCT. 31, AT DENVER NUGGETS
Durant commits a rookie mistake upon entering the Pepsi Center, carrying his backpack past a security guard at the players' entrance. "Let me look at that, son," he says to Durant, who complies.
During warmups Durant paces himself, the combination of mile-high elevation and opening-game nerves leaving him gasping. Carlesimo pulls him aside before the tip-off. "Good luck and just go out there and have a good time," the coach says. "Don't worry about anything else." As Durant stands outside the center circle -- Carlesimo had penciled him in as his starting shooting guard seconds after becoming coach -- his eye is drawn to the signature shoes worn by Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony. "They the new ones?" Durant asks Melo, who says yes. Durant is tempted to ask if Anthony will autograph the sneakers for him afterward. "But I kind of stopped myself right in the middle, because I've got an NBA jersey on too," Durant explains later.
The game goes predictably, which is to say that Durant looks like a 19-year-old among men and the Sonics are gallant but outgunned, getting blown away down the stretch in a 120-103 loss. Durant shoots an airball from 10 feet, fails to finish near the basket several times and misses an opportunity to exploit a nine-inch advantage when Allen Iverson switches off on him. He begins aiming his shots and even hopping up and down in an effort to will them into the basket.
But Durant has his moments, too. He goes coast to coast for a layup, cleverly using 6' 9" rookie teammate Jeff Green as a screen when he gets in the lane. (Carlesimo wants Seattle to be an up-tempo team, having hired Mr. Transition, Paul Westhead, as his top assistant, and both can envision Durant taking off with a rebound on a one-man break or sprinting downcourt to finish off a long pass.) On one occasion Durant overplays Anthony to his left and effortlessly blocks Melo's jumper. It's unlikely that Durant will ever be a lockdown defender -- players so long have trouble getting into that cobra-strike position -- but Carlesimo will play a lot of scramble zone, trying to force tempo by creating turnovers and by making opponents take quick shots, a seemingly ideal defense for the long-armed Durant (he has a 7' 4 3/4" wingspan), who finishes with three steals.
After the game, Durant sits at his locker staring at a box score that, steals aside, reads like a mediocre transcript from his one year at Texas: 18 points (on 7-of-22 shooting), five rebounds, one assist, one block. Durant will no doubt lead the known world in 7-of-22s this season; he is a perimeter shooter who won't get many easy baskets and a rookie who won't get many officials' calls. He showers and returns to find a crowd of reporters surrounding his locker, forcing him to execute that trickiest of maneuvers -- wriggling into boxer shorts while still wearing a towel. No other Sonic is of interest to the fourth estate, and there is a real danger that all the oxygen will be sucked out of the area immediately in front of Durant's locker. "KD," Wilcox shouts at his swarmed teammate in a good-natured but mocking tone, "I seeeee you!"