In the wake of OKC's Saturday night thrashing at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, I immediately recalled a short story I had read last week. ESPN's J.A. Adande had asked Kevin Durant which great NBA duo he and Russell Westbrook most wanted to emulate.
Durant's answer? Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.
I think it is fitting that Durant would look to another small-market team, its all-time great anchor, and his fellow all-star candidate players, to learn how to forge a path and win championships.
It is also worth noting that When both Tim Duncan and Tony Parker entered the league, they were far from the finished products we got to see by the mid '00's. While Duncan had the fortune of winning a championship in his first season, it wasn't really until the 2004 season that he finally figured out all of the nuances of the game and morphed into arguably the greatest power forward of all time. Up to that point, Duncan, like Durant, often struggled with his decision-making and allowed aggressive defenses to take him out of the game. Meanwhile, when Parker entered the league he was lightning quick and a capable scorer around the rim, but he had almost no jump-shot to speak of. Defenders could lay off of him and give him the 20 foot shot, knowing he did not yet have the confidence to score from that depth.
Over time and years of playing together, Duncan and Parker ironed out their weak spots to become one of the best tandems in the game's history, collecting three championship rings together. They never strayed from the course their coach Greg Poppovich set for them and they never looked to play anywhere else. The two learned to play to each others' strengths, and now even in Duncan's twilight you can still see an almost telepathic connection between the two of them.
Of course Durant and Westbrook are not exactly the same players as Duncan and Parker, but there is enough overlap there to see that the OKC youngsters can follow the Spurs' career arc. Saturday night's loss was a fine beating put on by Parker and Duncan, but it is good to remember that there is a shared history and learned experience in San Antonio that cannot be expedited. The Thunder will move past last Saturday's loss, but they would do well to remember that there are still more lessons that savvy vets can teach.