It’s the summer of 2010. Los Angeles’ vaunted club scene is whirring at full speed, the beaches are overflowing with sunbathers and surfers and four of the most prolific rising NBA stars are sweating in a local gym.
There’s Derrick Rose. A laundry list of lower extremity injuries have yet to sap his world-class athleticism. The explosive point guard is still months shy of his 22nd birthday and CBA changing MVP campaign.
There’s Russell Westbrook, an equally incendiary athlete, still more energizer bunny and muscle than bonafide point guard playmaker.
And then there’s Kevin Durant and Kevin Love, two lethal scorers, bound by similar size yet boasting completely different statures. This is years before Love began treating his body like a temple and morphed from huggable teddy bear to stubbled Banana Republic model. Even after leading the league in scoring, Durant is still hearing naysayers recant his poor, pre-draft bench press performance and skeletal frame.
They’ve convened under the surveillance of Rob McClanaghan, trainer to the stars. He began working with Love and Rose during the summer months before they entered college. A year later, before the draft, Love brought along a friend named Russell and the business has since snowballed.
Those 2010 workouts dripped with enthusiasm. “I remember some of those, we don’t even get water breaks,” McClanaghan told The Crossover. “People ask me why these guys are so good and it’s just that. They work. It’s not rocket science.” The results of this labor are obvious: Likely a third MVP award when Westbrook claims the trophy on June 26 and tens of collective All-Star appearances and All-NBA selections. What wasn’t as evident: with each jumper and each drill, the tectonic plates of the NBA were shifting beneath the hardwood and Hollywood Boulevard.
Seven years later, the manifestation of the NBA’s pace-and-space era has culminated in this NBA Finals matchup. Durant won that first scoring title as the Oklahoma City Thunder’s two-guard, yet on Sunday evening clamped the Cavaliers’ offense as a small-ball center for Golden State. Once bound by the block, Love has matured into one of the most feared three-point shooters in the league, capable of draining jumpers as efficiently off the bounce as off catch-and-shoot opportunities. Those 2010 sessions set the tone for each player’s shift into positional versatility and quintessential offensive efficiency.
Behind the scenes: NBA stars work out
“They were fun to work out because I could do low post stuff, back to the basket, or I could do face up, or I could do threes, or I could do ball handling or I can do stepbacks,” McClanaghan said. Each Kevin’s strength was the other’s weakness, and that shadow cast the ultimate motivation for improvement. “Love has always been a good low post scorer. Durant has always been a very good perimeter player and now they can both do the other part.”
That malleability has taken the premier stage of The Finals. Durant has, of course, been an absolute inferno, torching Cleveland for 35.5 points, snaring 11.0 rebounds, dishing 7.0 assists and swatting 2.5 blocks per game. That rim protection, and ability to punish the rim, has been years in the making. When he and Love first workshopped post moves with McClanaghan, Durant did not harbor the strength and paint presence to do this:
Love has quietly countered with a lethal second-banana effort to LeBron James’s Herculean feats. He’s poured in 21.0 points and grabbed 14.0 rebounds while turning back 1.5 shots a night as well. Love has connected on 38.4% of his Finals three-point looks and 45.5% in the playoffs overall. He attempted just 19 triples during his rookie season in Minnesota before McClanaghan encouraged a migration beyond the arc. Now, Love is ball-faking and jab-stepping into nearly unconscionable threes.
Durant and Love boast far different frames and fashions. They still share several critical commonalities, especially as fearsome pick-and-roll figures. “They can both roll, they can go pop out and space it out more,” McClanaghan said. We’ve seen both Kevins handle the ball and receive screens from their respective point guards during these playoffs as well. The evolution of the modern big man has been as vaunted a discussion as any in the NBA. There might not be a better benchmark than these Finals, regardless of the competitiveness between the two teams.