Nets’ nonstop drama overshadowing Kevin Durant’s stellar start to 2022-23 NBA season

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The Brooklyn Nets have been in the headlines non-stop since the start of the 2022-23 NBA season, and for all of the wrong reasons. First, there was the extremely underwhelming play of former No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons, who the Nets traded James Harden for in February. Simmons scored in single digits in the first six games he played with the team, and he has since missed the past handful of games with a knee injury. Questions linger about when — and if — Simmons will return to his former All-Star self. 

Then there was the latest Kyrie Irving situation, which involved the team suspending him for at least five games after he shared an anti-Semitic video and refused to apologize for it, despite being given ample opportunity to do so.

And of course, there was the firing of coach Steve Nash after the team started 2-5. Nash was hired in 2020 and lasted only two full seasons before his time in Brooklyn came to an end. Suspended Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka is rumored to be Brooklyn’s top target to replace Nash, despite the fact that Udoka isn’t coaching the Celtics this season because of team policy violations. 

Overall, the Nets have had more drama in the past three weeks than most franchises experience over years of existence. And it’s not like last season was distraction-free for Brooklyn, either, as it was highlighted by Harden forcing his way out of town and Irving being relegated to a part-time player due to his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19. All of that drama is unfortunate for the franchise, especially because it has overshadowed the on court product, and what has been a stellar start to the season for Kevin Durant. 

Durant is a former MVP, a four-time scoring champion, and he’s widely considered to be one of the greatest scorers that the game has ever seen. So far this season, he’s scoring the ball at the highest rate of his entire career, so that’s saying something.

Through 10 games, Durant is averaging 31.5 points per performance while shooting 52 percent from the field. The only other time that he averaged more points per game was when he led the league in scoring with 32 points per game during the 2013-14 campaign. He also played about a minute more per game that year than he has so far this season. On a per 36-minute basis, Durant is averaging more points (30.4) than he ever has while still shooting above his career average of 49 percent. 

Durant is leading the league in total points scored at this early point in the season, and his effort hasn’t been limited to the offensive end, either. With Brooklyn’s roster lacking real rim protection, Durant has stepped his game up in that area, averaging a career-high two blocks per performance. At this point in the season, only four players have more total blocks than Durant: Ivica Zubac, Nic Claxton, Bol Bol, and Brook Lopez — all centers.

Plays like this one have been a common sight to see from Durant this season: 

Plus, there are the usual offensive highlights, like crossing Wizards center Daniel Gafford into oblivion and then canning the jumper: 

At 34, Durant still appears to be at — or near — the peak of his powers. That’s why it’s unfortunate that he’s playing on a team where the focus has been on almost everything but basketball. And a team that doesn’t appear to be a legitimate contender, at least at the moment, despite Durant’s greatness. That could change though, especially if Durant continues to play as well as he has thus far and gets some help. Maybe that help comes in the form of Irving returning his focus to the floor or Simmons finally finding his stride. 

Durant is still good enough to be the top dog on a title team, but he obviously can’t do it alone. Hopefully, as the season wears on, the focus in Brooklyn will shift back to the floor and everything that Durant is doing on it, as opposed to the stuff that’s happening off the floor and behind the scenes. 

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