Kevin Durant's secret weapon: Dirk Nowitzki
All those gaudy numbers. All those wins without Russell Westbrook. All those tweets and "SportsCenter" graphics telling us, over and over, that Kevin Durant's season has been legitimately Jordanesque.
All of that, when you add it all up, is why the ESPN Forecast panel this week proclaimed Durant to be the runaway favorite to win his first Most Valuable Player award without even bothering to wait for voting to close.
It's the only reasonable conclusion to draw with the Durant-led Thunder sporting a record they'd be proud if Westbrook hadn't missed a single game. And with KD on the brink of becoming just the fourth player in history -- this league's first since His Airness himself 25 years ago -- to average at least 32 points, seven rebounds and five assists for an entire season.
With a few key steals quietly mixed in.
These particular swipes haven't been discussed much, because Durant doesn't often reveal much beyond what we can all see out on the floor, but he recently confessed that he's been swiping liberally all season from the Dirk Nowitzki playbook all season.
Turns out that, since November, Durant has been working with Adam Harrington as his personal trainer beyond his daily duties with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Which is the same Adam Harrington who briefly played alongside Nowitzki with the Dallas Mavericks more than a decade ago and has been studying the unorthodox coaching techniques hatched by Nowitzki's longtime mentor and shot doctor from back home, Holger Geschwindner, ever since.
"It's a lot more than just trying to copy the one-legger," Durant said, explaining that he's not merely focused on trying to mimic Nowitzki's signature shot.
"Dirk's got a lot of moves I'm trying to steal."
Practice shots with both hands, off both feet and launched from a variety of stances and spins to improve footwork. Planting the heels and shifting smoothly onto the toes for better balance. Breathing techniques as the ball is released. Keeping the fingers wide, too.
Durant has been dabbling in all those Holger-centric areas of emphasis in his hourly sessions with Harrington, which typically take place in the evenings -- home or road -- whether it's a practice day or after the Thunder fly into a new city on the night before a game.
That's how Nowitzki and Steve Nash did it almost from the moment they became teammates in Dallas more than 15 years ago, whether or not Geschwindner was in town to run them through the unorthodox drills he exclusively conceived as a former captain of the West German Olympic team who also happened to be obsessed with physics.
In the early days of the Nowitzki/Nash partnership, then-Mavericks coach Don Nelson hired former NBA All-Star Kiki Vandeweghe to be the daily (and nightly) skills companion for Dallas' pick-and-pop duo, since Geschwindner could make only a handful of in-season trips to oversee the sessions himself. Vandeweghe had moved on to a front-office position with the Denver Nuggets by the time Harrington arrived in Dallas for the 2002-03 season, but the routine, by then, was well-established.
That 2002-03 campaign, furthermore, was the extent of Harrington's NBA career, but a summer camp and subsequent stint in the German Bundesliga four years later in Geschwindner's hometown of Bamberg gave him the chance to learn the curriculum further. And when Harrington was introduced to the three-time MVP runner-up early in the season by a mutual friend, Durant perked up once he learned about the ties to Nowitzki.
Dirk, you see, is Durant's favorite active player.
"It's probably a tie between him and Kobe," Durant said after giving it some extra thought.
Yet there's no disputing who's the more natural role model for KD. It's that 35-year-old, that 7-footer, who plays three hours away down Interstate 35 ... and who just shot his way into the top 10 on the league's all-time scoring charts in his 16th season.
You figure Durant will get there even faster at his current pace, given the insane levels of efficiency he's hitting -- sporting a PER of 30.2 for the season -- and blessed with that extra dose of athleticism Dirk has always dreamed of.
Yet you can go ahead and give Dirk and Holger an assist or three in helping Durant navigate his path to that first MVP trophy. Harrington was predictably spotted sitting right next to Geschwindner, Der Professor, when the Thunder and Mavs dueled in Dallas in late March in a game the hosts eked out in overtime.
"I don't know him so well," Durant said of Nowitzki, "but I've always liked the way he goes about his business.
"And I've learned a lot from him by just studying the techniques."
As if Durant, heading into a potential first-round matchup with Nowitzki's Mavs, didn't already have enough going for him.