Why Kevin Durant Can Challenge LeBron James for NBA's MVP
Last year, LeBron James solidified himself as the best in the game with his third MVP award. Averaging 27.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG and 6.2 APG, there is no question that James was well-rounded on the offensive end. Shooting 53.1 percent from the field, 36.2 percent from three and 77.1 percent from the free-throw line, James excelled as a premier offensive threat. He also played effectively on both ends of the floor, earning him first-team All-Defensive Team honors.
However, this might be the year that 24-year-old Kevin Durant supplants the King.
Durant's numbers were in the same ballpark as James' last season. Offensively, KD averaged more points per game (28.0), which earned him his third consecutive scoring title. He also was on par with James in terms of rebounding, averaging 8.0 boards per game. Although his assist numbers are not quite there yet (3.5 APG), Durant is clearly an offensive nightmare for opposing teams.
A look at percentages also favors Durant on the offensive end. Durant did have a worse field-goal percentage (49.6 percent) than James. However, he also took more shots, many of which were long jumpers, whereas LeBron does plenty of his scoring in the paint or on the drive.
When you factor in the amount of jumpers Durant takes in comparison to LeBron, it is clear that Durant is the better shooter of the two—averaging better from three-point range (38.7 percent) and from the free-throw line (86.0 percent). Despite more attempts in both categories, it is evident that KD knows how to score effectively and efficiently.
Although many knock Durant's defense in comparison to LeBron's, he is becoming a better defender with every year and is learning how to use his massive wingspan to his advantage. He may not get as many steals as James, but he does average more blocks. Durant is not as much of a "freak" athlete as LeBron is, and therefore is not much of a post defender.
Who will win the NBA MVP this season?
However, Durant could continue to close the gap this year, though he will almost certainly not be the caliber of defender LeBron is.
Another knock on Durant last year was his turnovers.
Averaging 3.8 turnovers a game doesn't sound like an MVP candidate, but this figure isn't too far off from James' 3.4 per game. Last season, Durant's turnovers increased largely because he was passing more, and his assist numbers rose. Obviously, as he first steps into the role of a passer he will initially make mistakes, but now that he has had a full season of developing his passing game and evolving into more than just a pure scorer, I expect his decision making to improve, as well—meaning his turnovers will likely decline.
Durantula's numbers are also improving steadily from year to year as he approaches his prime. Last season, he improved his rebounds per game by 1.2 and his assists per game by 0.8. His scoring numbers have hovered around 30 PPG for the last three years, as KD has continued to score, but worked on improving other facets of his game at the same time.
On the other hand, LeBron's numbers have been consistent over the last few years, but there is less upside as opposed to Durant.
It is also worth noting the situation each team is in going into this season. The Miami Heat have added a few pieces that will help their offense in Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, which may be able to boost James' assist numbers a little.
However, Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder enter the 2012-13 season without reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden. The loss of The Bearded One is critical to the Thunder's title hopes, and if KD can lead the Thunder to another solid regular season performance despite this loss, it could help his case as the MVP.
Durant will likely be asked to do more with this key subtraction. I don't think he will be asked to score much more, because although he is an elite offensive player, he can't do it all. However, I do believe his assist numbers will climb, as Durant proves to the basketball world that he, like LeBron, can run the point forward when he needs to. Harden was second on the team in assists last year, so Durant and Westbrook will be asked to spread the ball around more to look for the open man as both could draw double teams given their offensive abilities.
With the drama that recently ensued over Harden's contract, this is the perfect opportunity for Durant to step up and show the world that he is ready to dethrone a king.
While LeBron is clearly the favorite to repeat as the MVP, you can't count out Durant.
With the potential to average 30 PPG, 9 or 10 RPG, 4 or 5 APG, 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 85 percent from the line, KD is difficult to ignore, especially given the current situation with the Thunder. Look for Durant to challenge LeBron this season and maybe even come out on top.
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