One-third of the way into the lockout-shortened NBA season, a couple of former Longhorns within the league continue to headline for their contending team while others show enduring signs of promising NBA careers.
An established scorer and 2007 college basketball player of the year, Kevin Durant has earned recognition as an early season MVP candidate. His 26.8 points per game are third-highest in the league and are a big reason why the Oklahoma City Thunder have an NBA-best record of 18-5 this early in the season.
Durant and the up-and-coming Thunder are poised to make another legitimate run at the title in what seems to be a wide-open Western Conference race. Their championship hopes ended last season at the hands of the eventual NBA Champions, the Dallas Mavericks.
“Durantula,” as many call him, made an early-season statement against the defending champions after beating Dallas with a buzzer-beating three-pointer and winning two out of the three early season matchups against the Mavs. In order for the Thunder to take the next step in their championship aspirations, the former Longhorn great must execute clutch plays of this sort when the playoffs arrive.
Aldridge and the tough-minded Portland Trail Blazers look to make a deep playoff run in a Western Conference that’s up for grabs. He has solidified himself as one of the top forwards in the league and, much like Durant, has a strong chance of being in this season’s All-Star Game.
“He’s matured, he has been consistent over the last three years. He’s shown growth. Even though we’ve lost a lot of guys to injury, we have continued to win and compete and get to the playoffs,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said of Aldridge.
His career high of 23.1 points per game have the Blazers positioned to make a title run as they currently hold the sixth seed in the highly-competitive Western Conference.
After a rookie season with limited opportunities to make an impact for the Boston Celtics, Bradley’s NBA future was looking bleak.
This season, Boston’s aging and banged-up roster has opened the door for the former Longhorn guard to display his talents. He’s averaging 18 minutes and four points per game for the undermanned Celtics.
His offensive numbers aren’t exactly eye-opening, but his biggest contribution has been on the defensive side of the court. His breakout performance came in a historic 87-56 Celtics win over the Magic in January.
“His defense set the whole tone for the entire thing. He took us out; we had a hard time getting the ball down and getting into offense,” Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy said of Bradley.
With the Celtics expected to rebuild and rely on young talent after this season, Bradley’s impressive defensive display may land him a long-term role with the franchise.
The fourth overall pick in last year’s draft has displayed a high skill at the NBA level in limited playing time with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Like Avery Bradley, Thompson’s main contributions have come from the defensive side of the ball.
He is averaging over one block per game and fewer than five rebounds per game. With the emergence of teammate Alonzo Gee, Thompson saw his minutes dwindle. What separates the two forwards at the moment is Thompson’s limited offensive skill set.
The former Longhorn’s athleticism and length alone may keep him in the league for a while, but he must improve his offensive capabilities to fully reach his NBA potential.