Why Kevin Durant Should Win the NBA's Most Improved Player Award

Taylor SmithAnalyst IFebruary 11, 2009

Ever so quietly, the Oklahoma City Thunder have gone from the horrendous, hands-down worst team in the NBA, to a team drastically on the rise at an alarming rate.

The franchise formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics' first season in Oklahoma City got off to quite the rough start. 

They lost 16 of their first 17 games. They fired their head coach, P.J. Carlesimo, after starting 1-12.

At one point, they were 2-25 and pundits were discussing whether or not they'd win more than nine games (the worst record in league history is the 9-73 mark set by the '72-'73 76ers). Most people were taking the under. 

However, if there was an award for "Most Improved Team," the Thunder would win it in a landslide.

The Thunder are now 13-39, and although the record doesn't reflect it, they've been very competitive over the past couple of months. 

One of the main reasons the Thunder are arguably the league's most improved team is because their best player, Kevin Durant, is arguably the league's most improved player. 

Sure, in his rookie season, Durant averaged 20 points and four rebounds per game, numbers good enough to earn him Rookie of the Year honors rather easily.

This season, however, his numbers have drastically improved, and he's been able to do it at a ridiculous rate.

Durant is averaging 25.6 points and 6.7 boards a night this season, and both numbers just keep steadily rising.

His shot-selection is also much more mature. Last season in Seattle, Durant would often force terrible, low-percentage shots from the outside.

However, due to the improvements of players like Jeff Green and the addition of rookie Russell Westbrook, Durant is now able to receive the ball in places on the floor that he is more comfortable scoring from. 

The most dramatic changes have come in Durant's shooting percentages. 

His overall field goal percentage is at 48 percent this year, up from just 43 percent last year. His three-point shooting percentage is up from just 28 percent last year (well below-average) to 43 percent this year (well above-average). 

When you combine his elite scoring ability with his great speed and athleticism, there's no reason he can't be a better version of Tracy McGrady in his heyday. 

Lest you forget, KD is putting up these numbers in his second year in the league, and, more impressively, he's just 20-years-old. The main challenge for Durant going forward will be to improve on the defensive end.

He's 6'9", but so wiry that there's no way he'll be able to defend bangers in the low post. If he can add a bit of muscle to his thin frame, it'll make him all the more dangerous on both ends of the floor. 

While Greg Oden, the No. 1 pick ahead of Durant, missed the entire '07-'08 season and is now struggling through what is his rookie campaign, Durant is already establishing himself as a superstar in the league. 

Obviously, cases can be made for players like Devin Harris, Paul Millsap, Danny Granger, and Jameer Nelson for the Most Improved Player award, but you'd be hard-pressed to find somebody that has made as stunning and as rapid an improvement as Kevin Durant.