Welcome to NBA Jam week on NBA.com where all week long we're celebrating the remarkable collection of star duos throughout the NBA and viewing the upcoming season through the prism of what these duos mean entering 2019-20.
You're starting season mode in NBA Jam and you choose to pick a fun pairing. Perhaps it's Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert or Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum.
You make it through the first four teams and face off against a tough duo like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. Go through another four teams before running into Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. From here on out, it's nothing but the best of the best waiting to take your best shot.
Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
You're one step away from beating the game and you just can't do it. You can't get past the final boss - the Brooklyn Nets' Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving - the Slim Reaper and Uncle Drew. You're ready to let the controller fly as they bury tough shot after tough shot, catching fire with ease.
They're simply too much.
The Nets could very well be the biggest winners of the offseason even if they aren't grabbing all the headlines. Regardless of playing in New Jersey or Brooklyn, the Nets have never been considered a marquee free agent destination and yet, they somehow landed two of the five biggest names on the market in this league-altering free agency class.
After three seasons in the basement of the NBA standings, the Nets reached the playoffs last year. Now, they're one season away from suiting up as legitimate contenders for an NBA championship.
There's something unique about this pairing - something these two players have in common. Neither claims to love attention from the media and both have made it known that they just want to ball and yet they've each starred in their own featured movies and decided to unite in New York, the media capital of the country.
For anyone looking to deflect attention and step away from the spotlight, opting to call the league's biggest market 'home' sure is an interesting move.
In some circles, both Durant and Irving have gone from fan favourites to league villains.
Durant was beloved by everyone when he was in Oklahoma City. He took the NBA by storm, emerging as the league's best bucket-getter in winning four scoring titles in a five-year span during some of his best seasons with the Thunder. He's like a video game created player - where you make your guy 7-feet tall and turn his ball handling, speed and shooting attributes up to a 99 overall. It was impossible not to love.
Irving captured the hearts of the NBA world with his Game 7 dagger in the 2016 NBA Finals, knocking off the very dominant, very hated, record-breaking 73-9 Golden State Warriors. Even before the shot, Irving's And-1 mixtape ball-on-a-string handles, wizardly finishes around the rim and ice-cold willingness to take and make challenging shots at the young age of 23 was enough to win over the love of NBA fans. Knocking down the biggest shot in NBA history was just fandom insurance.
Well, you know how the story goes. Durant signs with the Warriors and becomes arguably the most detested player in the league on his way to two NBA titles and two Finals MVPs. Irving decides he's done being Robin and wants to play Batman, but fails to lead a loaded young Boston Celtics team to their full potential while the locker room turned upside-down in the process.
Now, the duo is forging their own path in Brooklyn and their black-hatter vibes really are that of a final boss in a video game.
KD very well might be the best scorer in NBA history from all three levels of the floor. He's coming off of a season where he averaged 26.0 points per game on 52.1% shooting from the field, the second-best field goal percentage of his career.
He was the Warriors constant all season, also averaging 6.4 rebounds and a career-high 5.9 assists per game on his way to an All-NBA honour. In the playoffs, he turned things up a notch.
It all started with the famous interview before Game 3 in the first round: "I'm Kevin Durant. Y'all know who I am."
After that, it was over for the Clippers. Durant's performances following that statement - 38 points, 33 points, 45 points and a 50-point game to close out the series.
50 pts | 15-26 FG- ESPN (@espn) April 27, 2019
Kevin Durant sends the Clippers home with an epic closeout performance 🔥 pic.twitter.com/YDjXXAXT06
He then averaged 33.2 points in the second-round series against the Rockets before suffering an injury that would hold him out until he tried to play in Game 5 of The Finals.
If that's the player Brooklyn is getting in 2020-21, paired with Irving, they will immediately become one of the favourites to win the title.
Amidst all the noise and negative connotations around the Irving and the Celtics, the six-time All-Star had the best statistical season of his career. Irving has always had a knack for scoring the rock - he averaged 23.8 points per game this past year - but where he made major improvements was as a passer and rebounder. Irving averaged career-highs in assists (6.9) and rebounds (5.0) per game. He notched 10 or more assists in 18 games, which was also a career-best, and for all of the talk of a submarined season in Boston, managed to snap an All-NBA Second Team selection.
Irving has never been considered a bad playmaker, but he was always seen as a score-first point guard. He still is a score-first point guard, but he proved he can use the attention he gets from a defence to his advantage, making his teammates around him better - something that bodes well playing next to a scorer of Durant's calibre, as well as players like Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and lob targets like DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen.
Durant and Irving are two of the heaviest isolation players in the league. While we'll see plenty of "your turn, my turn" offence out of this prolific scoring duo, they're both extremely versatile on that end of the floor and should have some fun trying out different things like setting screens for each other in pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop situations or dribble handoffs on the perimeter to attack mismatches.
They're already two of the best shot creators in the NBA today and the idea that they're teaming up after each displaying the best playmaking season of their careers makes the potential of this tandem even more frightening.
As it pertains to the ultimate goal of winning it all, this will be a throw away season of sorts as Brooklyn patiently waits for Durant to recover from that ill-timed Achilles injury. But for Irving, it's a season to completely rebuild his reputation as a leader and get accustomed to the team he'll be battling with in pursuit of a championship in the ensuing season.
For Durant, it's a chance to relay his experience as a two-time champion - the Nets' roster has zero Finals appearances aside from Durant and Irving - and become a vocal leader in the locker room, in the practice facility and on the bench until he is fully recovered and can lead by example when he returns to floor.
While it's unfortunate we'll have to wait a full season to see these two hit the court together, it will be well worth the wait as two of the leagues's biggest supervillains will aim to again win the hearts of NBA fans over in trying to bring Brooklyn its first-ever NBA title.
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