Two years removed from a Western Conference semifinals loss to the Dallas Mavericks (who would go on to become NBA champions) and this past seasons’ loss in the NBA Finals to the Miami Heat will fuel the fire in Durant.
If these five keys fall into place for Kevin Durant he will hoist the Maurice Podoloff trophy at the conclusion of the 2012-13 NBA season.
Scoring is the strength that defines Kevin Durant.
He has been the league’s premier scorer for the past three years running, beating out stars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
If Durant wins a fourth consecutive title, he will be in the company of only two other players in NBA history: Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. Those two Hall of Famers have combined to take home nine MVP awards.
Voters would be hard-pressed to short-change Durant if he joined such company.
Kevin Durant is not well-rounded enough to let his greatest strength slip and still have a realistic shot at MVP. Winning the scoring title does not guarantee an MVP for Durant, but not winning it guarantees that he won’t.
Although his rebounding is heavily criticized, there has been a marked improvement since his rookie year in the NBA.
His eight rebounds per game in 2011-12 nearly doubled his total in his rookie year (4.4 RPG), an excellent sign of things to come. He is simply too tall not to be a good rebounder, even if his wiry 215-pound frame makes it more difficult to battle the 240-plus-pound big men.
In terms of being a facilitator, Durant has a lot of room to improve.
Over his career, his regular season assist totals have never surpassed 3.3 per game. He cannot win the MVP award if he puts up these meager numbers.
He needs at least eight rebounds and five assists per game to be a serious threat for the MVP.
If Westbrook can figure it out and take on more of a facilitator role than a scoring role from the point guard position, then the Thunder will have a legitimate shot to win a title.
And Kevin Durant may win the MVP award.
Although he averages a respectable 6.8 assists per game over the course of his four-year career (in which he has played every single regular season game), Westbrook only managed to haul in 5.5 assists per game in the shortened 2012-13 regular season.
With Durant’s ability to knock down shots from anywhere on the floor, Westbrook could easily average nine assists per game.
Durant managed to pull down 7.4 defensive rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks per game which isn’t bad at all. As a comparison, NBA MVP LeBron James had 6.4 defensive rebounds, 1.9 steals and 0.8 blocks per game.
Surprisingly comparable, right?
The only thing is that a player's defensive ability cannot be judged strictly on statistics—whereas offense often can be.
For instance, LeBron James has guarded all five positions on the floor at some point and Durant isn’t at that point yet. You cannot quantify the value of that.
Durant, however, has the ability to do so because his long arms enable him to compete with the league’s taller players as well as the shorter ones who may have a step advantage over him.
The key is consistency and versatility.
If he can shut down opposing forwards for long stretches during games and possibly defend guards and centers when asked to, Durant will shed the reputation of a weaker defender. He already showed glimpses of his true defensive potential when he shut down Kobe Bryant during the playoffs in the fourth quarter.
LeBron James will be better next season than he was this season.
That is a scary proposition for the rest of the league and its potential MVP candidates.
The hard reality is that he is the favorite to repeat—as he should be. You can debate his overall greatness, but LeBron is arguably the most athletically gifted player ever to hit the NBA court. His size and strength are simply unparalleled, and while Durant has the size to create significant mismatches, so does LeBron.
But James also has the strength of a power forward or center at 6’8” and 250 pounds.
There are two things that would stop LeBron from repeating as MVP for the second time in his career: injuries and voters.
NBA sportswriters have an odd inclination to spread around the wealth of MVP honors.
If they feel that way at the conclusion of the 2012-13 NBA season and Durant reaches each of these keys, the MVP trophy will be his for the taking.
Check out more sports writing from B/R featured columnist Elijah Abramson on basesandbaskets.com.