Kevin Durant lands at number 5 on our list of the best players for the upcoming 2022-2023 season. With dysfunction eternally surrounding Durant, it’s worth remembering he’s a two-time Finals MVP and regular season MVP. He has the fourth-highest per-game scoring average of all time (just ahead of LeBron James). With average health, he should move up somewhere between 10th-13th on the list of the highest scorers in NBA history, next to legends Hakeem Olajuwon and Oscar Robertson.
Of course, Durant has been part of that dysfunction with the Brooklyn Nets. He cannot be blamed for Kyrie Irving’s unavailability, and the reasons for his absences, but he did plan to team up with Irving in the 2019-2020 offseason. Durant also pushed GM Sean Marks to trade for James Harden, but could not help create an environment Harden would want to play within for longer than one season. With Durant seemingly back in Brooklyn for the entire season after management was unable to find a fitting trade, what’s in store for Durant and the Nets this season?
Top NBA Players 2022-23: #5 Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant’s 2022-2023 Season
Durant turned 34 a couple of weeks ago, and despite his age, his on-court contributions remain unassailable. He averaged 29.9 points per game last season to keep Brooklyn afloat amid injuries and Irving’s extended absence. That was his highest mark since his 2013-14 MVP season.
Much like his teammate Irving, Durant is absurdly efficient from every spot on the court. His tight handle, size, and elite shooting ability mean there is no such thing as a bad Durant shot. Most notably, Durant shot 55.5% on 407 midrange field goal attempts last season. Only five other players could reach 50% from the midrange on at least 150 attempts (Jrue Holiday, LaMarcus Aldridge, Trae Young, Chris Paul, and Seth Curry). Durant has proven he can dominate an entire postseason with his scoring ability as well.
Durant has long been an underrated defender, and he helped Brooklyn remain respectable on that end when healthy as they finished 21st last season. When Brooklyn’s offense fulfills its potential, the Nets can be content with mediocrity on defense. Certain teams that finished below them on defense like the Chicago Bulls (Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso) and the Atlanta Hawks (Clint Capela) had better players to build defenses around, as well. It’s impossible to get around Durant with his length and lateral quickness, and his intelligence makes him an impactful help defender when motivated.
Durant can struggle with the physical aspects of the game. He’s no boxout artist, and he mostly looks to slip to the rim or quickly pop out when tasked with setting a screen. The Golden State Warriors had much more success having Stephen Curry screen for Durant than the other way around, for example. Still, this feels like nitpicking when it comes to discussing the all-time great’s talents.
Kevin Durant’s Outlook with the Nets
At media day, Durant alluded to “uncertainty” playing a role in his decision to request a trade. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see from where else on the roster stability will come. Irving and Ben Simmons, the team’s second and third-best players, have numerous availability issues. Irving’s temperament is unpredictable, and Simmons is returning from the back injury that kept him out all last season.
The instability doesn’t stop with those two. New acquisition T.J. Warren is a talented two-way wing who last played in Dec. 2020. Knockdown shooter Joe Harris played in just 14 games last season after having ankle surgeries in November and March. Brooklyn is dependent on small, aging guards Patty Mills and Seth Curry (and Irving). They need Nic Claxton and Day’Ron Sharpe, who have started a combined 28 total NBA games, to platoon at center. Both are non-shooters who project to be poor on-court fits with Simmons. It remains to be seen how well trade acquisition Royce O’Neale can defend when he isn’t sharing a uniform with perennial DPOY candidate Rudy Gobert.
Durant’s own health and availability are significant concerns as well. He played fewer than half of Brooklyn’s regular season games in 2020-21 and missed 27 last season. He’s fully recovered from the torn Achilles suffered in the 2019 Finals, but it’s unclear whether Durant can stay healthy for roughly 70 regular season games and the playoffs. Brooklyn won’t reach their goals if he cannot stay on the court.
Other than that, things are great! With good health, this would be the deepest roster surrounding Durant in Brooklyn since the Harden trade. Durant will need to be a true on-court leader for this team to realize its potential. Brooklyn won’t be substantially more talented than the rest of the NBA this year.
The Last Word on Kevin Durant
No one could possibly know what’s in store for Durant and the Nets this season. Durant is an all-time great, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll slow down on the court when available. Availability is a key issue surrounding Durant at this point in his career, however. As outlined above, he’s surrounded by players with similar injury risks as well, casting doubt upon how well the Nets can play during a Durant absence.
There’s the possibility of a true career renaissance, however. Irving, freed from vaccine requirements and needing a new contract, could arrive focused and ready to be the supplementary star Brooklyn needs. Simmons, Harris, and Warren could be healthy and provide the two-way play on the wings the Nets need. It’s easy to see an Irving-Simmons two-man game setting Durant up with the easiest shots he’s received since his time with Golden State.
Brooklyn has championship upside, and Durant could certainly win the second MVP award of his career. Brooklyn could also falter under the weight of injury and expectation, and Durant could be left demanding a trade again before Christmas. No one, not even Durant, seems to know what’s in store for him this season.