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An appreciation: Zach Lowe looks at Kevin Durant, risk and reward and Nets future

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Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets - Game Seven Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Now, in retrospect, it doesn’t seem like it was big risk: signing arguably the best player in the world to a four-year deal worth $161 million. Yes, he’d miss the first season and yes, he might not be 100 percent the player he had been, but the Nets knew who he was. He was Kevin Durant.

Still is.

Zach Lowe, in an extensive appreciation of KD’s present and future, points out that yes, indeed, there was a big risk back then but an even bigger reward now. Now only does Lowe lay out how great Durant played his year —despite missing 37 games to hamstring issues and COVID protocols, but how much his play will effect the Nets decision-making going forward.

[T]hat should give Brooklyn confidence that the superteam it assembled from the ashes of its failed superteam has some time and even margin for bad luck. Durant almost wiped out the Milwaukee Bucks by himself. When Harden, Durant, and Irving were together, the Nets appeared unstoppable on offense — title favorites who had a “good enough” playoff gear on defense. Irving is 29, Harden 31, Durant 32 — still in their primes. All three are extension eligible.

Lowe notes that “title windows rarely last as long as the protagonists expect,” but what Durant did this year —and what the “Big Three” did when on the court for those 332 golden minutes should give Nets fans and the front office some encouragement going forward. And he says expect wrinkles going forward.

The Nets were plus-98 in those minutes, and scored about 127 points per 100 possessions — a preposterous number. They still have layers to peel back. Durant set ball screens this season at a career-low rate, per Second Spectrum; the Irving-Durant and Harden-Durant two-man games, with Durant screening, feel like a natural next thing for Nash to lean into.

Lowe lays out all the great details from Durant’s playoff performance and also notes how KD’s game has changed this season, how he moved effortlessly from alpha dog controlling the ball and creating to being an off-ball complement to his superstar teammates. Lowe goes back to a discussion he had back when Durant played for Golden State.

“Obviously it would be cool to have the ball in my hands the whole game and rack up numbers,” Durant said. “I can do that. But for me to utilize the full body of my talents, I can’t do that. I don’t have the energy physically to do that and still defend on the perimeter, block shots, rebound.”

Potential fatigue isn’t the only reason Durant spends time as a roving off-ball threat. He does it because he can. The ability to shift from on-ball to off-ball without losing an ounce of his impact — remaining a danger that draws multiple pairs of eyes — is a talent in itself, even if it is not the sort of talent that insists you notice it every second.

He did all of that, of course, in his masterpiece performances against Milwaukee. There was the 49-point performance in Game 5, the 48-point performance in Game 7 and the shot that is still reverberating around Barclays Center. Lowe lays it out.

He finished the playoffs having averaged 34 points, 4 assists, and 9 rebounds on 51/40/87 shooting. He barely missed leading the playoffs in points per game for the fifth time. His career playoff mark — 29.5 points — trails only Allen Iverson (barely) and Michael Jordan. Durant ranks 10th in total playoff points. Depending on how the rest of his career goes, he could pass Jordan for the No. 2 spot behind LeBron James.

Finally, the bottom line from Lowe is that the NBA may not yet fully appreciate Durant, the craftsman the way we did Kobe Bryant. the unique player that he is in the history of the game.

[T]his season, and especially these playoffs, put to rest what was maybe the biggest question entering play in December: Will Kevin Durant be the same? He is, and the Nets should be right back in the thick of it next season.

There was a report Tuesday that the Nets might take calls on Kyrie Irving, being willing to break up the “Big Three.” That seems out there. The Nets top priority this summer is extending Durant, Harden and Irving. Sean Marks knows what he’s got.