Kevin Durant scored 15 points Sunday on his unofficial Brooklyn Nets’ debut, 552 days since his last appearance on a court when he tore his Achilles tendon.
Durant, arguably the best player in the NBA at the time of his injury, spent his downtime in rehabilitation watching Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo claim two most valuable player awards and LeBron James capture his fourth NBA championship.
The Nets are Durant’s new team, and soon New York will be his city. But before Durant can rejoin the conversation about who is the best, he needs to show he can lead the Nets to the top rung of the NBA ladder.
On Sunday, Durant played the first half as the Nets beat the Washington Wizards 119-114 in their opening preseason game at Barclays Center arena.
“It’s definitely good to get back into the flow of things and it’s definitely giving me some confidence," said Durant. “So it’s a good step, and I’m trying to build on it."
It was Durant’s first game since tearing his Achilles while playing for Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA finals. Following surgery, he signed a four-year deal with Brooklyn.
The Nets made the playoffs last season with Durant and Kyrie Irving out, and then they hired Canadian Steve Nash as head coach.
Durant knows what his expected role is with the Nets. He has been on championship teams, he guided clubs through long playoff runs and game sevens so his leadership skills are crucial.
His injury should not be a major hurdle, because Durant relies on his excellent shooting skills instead of speed in getting to the basket.
New coach Nash is planning to go with a smaller line-up and even have Durant split time between centre and point guard which will give opposing defences plenty of headaches.
Starting alongside Irving on Sunday, Durant scored his 15 points on five-of-12 shooting while collecting three assists in 24 minutes.
“It’s a good first step," said Durant. “I want to play at an elite level late in the season — playoffs that’s when I want to play my best basketball. I’m working towards that point. Every single day just keeps working, man, and getting used to it."
Irving tied Wizards’ second-year player Rui Hachimura for a game-high 18 points.
Hachimura’s best moment in Sunday’s game came when the 6ft 8in Japanese standout dunked over Durant early in the contest.