You don’t earn the nickname “Slim Reaper” without good reason. Since famously getting drafted after Greg Oden, Kevin Durant has waged war on the NBA in an effort to prove everyone wrong for doubting him. The silky-smooth sharpshooter has gone from Russell Westbrook’s sidekick to a key cog for the Golden State Warriors. And while Durant’s Achilles injury has kept him from suiting up from the Brooklyn Nets, there’s no doubt that at full strength, he’s the NBA’s best pure scorer.
But before he ascended to elite status, Durant had to overcome an infamously awful NBA combine showing that incredibly inspired doubt about whether he’d ever live up to his prodigious talent.
Kevin Durant dominated in his lone year at the University of Texas
Unlike Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant didn’t make the leap from high school straight to the NBA. And while he didn’t put together a lengthy college career like David Robinson, he sure made his lone year count. The 6-foot-9, 215-pounder signed with the University of Texas as one of the top recruits in the country. Longhorns fans got a glimpse of greatness for 35 games.
The Maryland native wasted no time proving his elite talent. Durant shined as the team’s go-to option. Playing nearly 36 minutes per game, he averaged 25.8 points and became the first freshman to win the Naismith College Player of the Year award. He took home a number of other individual awards and became just the third player in Longhorns history to have his number retired.
Durant’s one-and-done year should have given NBA scouts all they needed to see. After all, he shot 40.4 percent from 3-point territory and averaged 11.1 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.9 blocks. In his only year in college, the lanky forward still looked like a man amongst boys. But after proving himself to be a basketball prodigy, he still had to check the boxes at the NBA combine.
Standout shooter still went No. 2 overall despite failing to bench 185 pounds at the NBA combine
Unlike the NFL combine, the NBA version doesn’t feature prospects jumping and running around in their underwear. And it certainly doesn’t get nearly the same TV coverage as its football counterpart. However, the standard testing protocols include a number of similar drills used to evaluate a player’s athletic ability.
In order to demonstrate their strength (or lack thereof), NBA draft hopefuls must bench press 185 pounds as many times as possible. Despite being the best college player in America, Durant couldn’t manage a single rep. His college strength coach came to his defense immediately after a lackluster combine showing.
“If people question his strength, they’re stupid,” Texas’ Rick Barnes said Tuesday, according to The Dallas Morning News. “If they are looking for weight lifters to come out of Texas, that’s not what we’re producing. There are a lot of guys who can bench press 300 pounds in the NBA who couldn’t play dead in a cowboy movie. Kevin’s the best player in the draft — period, at any position.”
Despite his infamous bench-press failure, Kevin Durant still went No. 2 overall to the Seattle SuperSonics. Oden may have enjoyed a better workout, but he went on to become one of the biggest busts in NBA history due in large part to injuries.
Durant earned “Slim Reaper” nickname as the NBA’s best pure scorer
Once he made it to the NBA, Kevin Durant made everyone look foolish for questioning him. As a 19-year-old rookie, he averaged 20.3 points despite an ugly 28.8 3-point shooting percentage. However, he made the leap to superstar in just his second season. As a 21-year-old, he earned his first of three straight scoring titles. That also marked his first of 10 consecutive All-Star selections. Durant also led the NBA in scoring in 2013-14 when he averaged an eye-popping 32 points per game for an Oklahoma City Thunder squad that nearly toppled Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.
In search of his first NBA title, Durant then took his talents to the Warriors. And while his three-year stint with Golden State certainly wasn’t drama-free, he achieved his goal by winning back-to-back titles. Along the way, he averaged 28.5, 29.0 and 32.3 points in his three postseason runs before tearing his Achilles in the 2019 NBA Finals.
With seemingly no holes in his game, the Slim Reaper has the ability to drain shots from anywhere on the court. Durant’s slender 7-foot frame may not be ideal for winning a bench-press contest, but it’s helped him become the NBA’s best pure scorer. We still have to see how he responds from that devastating Achilles injury. But if Kevin Durant has taught us anything, it’s that you should never doubt greatness.