Oklahoma City Thunder

Kevin Durant Fueling MVP Candidacy with Electric Scoring Display

Jan. 14, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) reacts on the court during the game against the Phoenix Suns in the second half at US Airways Center. The Thunder defeated the Suns 102-90. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistJanuary 15, 2013

Kevin Durant's display won't allow LeBron James to ride off into the sunset with the NBA's MVP award.

Not without a fight—an offensive fight, to be more specific.

This season, Durant has taken his offensive game to new heights (as if that were even possible). Not only are his 28.9 points per game third in the league behind Kobe Bryant (29.8) and Carmelo Anthony (29.3), but they're the second-highest total of his career. And they come on the heels of him averaging a career-high 4.3 assists per game, mind you.

But we knew Durant could score, right?

Of course we did, but not like this.

Aside from Durant, only Anthony has been considered a scorer of comparable breed, yet not even he is scoring in the manner his counterpart is.

The Durantula is shooting a career-best from the field (52.4 percent), beyond the arc (40.2) and the charity stripe (90.2 percent). His current pace has him set to become just the sixth player in league history to have a 50/40/90 season.

Perhaps more astonishing than Durant's historic showing itself, though, is the impact it has had on the Oklahoma City Thunder's offense.

With the lanky forward on the floor, the Thunder are scoring at a rate of 115.4 points per 100 possessions. Upon his departure, that number falls to 100.8, nearly a 15-point difference. Neither Melo nor LeBron can say their offensive prowess has had that type of an impact. The same goes for Chris Paul as well, putting Durant in a league all his own.

And when I say "a league all his own," I mean it.

Bear in mind that Durant doesn't even attempt the most shots on his team. Russell Westbrook hoists up 18.5 field goals to Durant's 18.3, yet the latter leads the Thunder in scoring and outscores the former by nearly seven points per bout. That's not just dominance, it's efficient dominance.

Actually, strike that, it's electrifyingly efficient dominance. 

Durant navigates the court in such a smooth, equable manner that his explosiveness is seemingly effortless.

He's a human highlight reel (just ask Marcin Gortat), yes, but his athleticism is so fluent that it's as if he's not even touching the floor. 

Can Melo say that? Can LeBron?

Not at all.

Both are gifted scorers with a vast array post and perimeter moves, but Durant's eruptive finesse puts all other scorers to shame. Next to him, there's a certain brutality to the on-ball styles of Anthony and James.

His arsenal is arguably more versatile than that of anyone else in the league as well. 

LeBron and Melo can score from anywhere on the floor, but neither of then can pull up the way Durant can nor are they a swift (though James does come close).

And as Sam Amick of USA Today notes, there's nothing quite like it when Durant takes over a game:

When Kevin Durant takes over a game, it's quite a show.

This time, it was at the expense of Marcin Gortat and the rest of the Phoenix Suns.

Durant scored 27 of his 41 points in the second half — 19 in the fourth quarter— and the Oklahoma City Thunder became the NBA's first 30-game winner this season by beating the Suns 102-90 on Monday night.

Durant sank an array of pull-up jumpers, added a couple of casual 3-pointers, made a handful of layups, then punctuated his night with a spectacular dunk over Gortat for a three-point play.

"I am just having a lot of fun out there," he said. "I got away with a carry on that (last) play, but I was able to free myself up. I saw the lane. Everyone knows he does a great job of contesting in the lane. I just tried to finish with some strength."

Finishing with "strength," is something he's done all season. It's also only a fraction of his game.

His ability to assume the roll of a spot-up shooter and isolated aficionado is not to be discounted, nor is the output he has parlayed his diverse skill set into.

We often become lost in the talents of Anthony, James and even Kobe Bryant before Durant. To his credit, he's considered the second-best player in the league, a feat he has accomplished while playing in an oft-neglected market.

Yet is that enough? Do we take Durant seriously enough? As a player? Person? Most valuable player candidate?

No, we don't. Or rather, we haven't. His named is uttered in the same breath as LeBron's almost daily, yet it has never held the same weight.

Until now.

Durant's scoring, the manner in which he does so and the impact it has on Oklahoma City's offense are fueling what must be considered his first legitimate claim for an MVP award. 

Or, as Mike Wise of The Washington Post puts it, this is the first time Durant's production and effect can no longer be ignored: 

Meanwhile, in a year we now forget the once-loaded Lakers were supposed to threaten a 70-win season and become the lone hope to stop a Heat-peat, Durant is having a better year than everyone.

Almost-midseason most valuable player awards mean nothing, but if anyone is making the best claim to win his first trophy now it’s the District’s own.

I hate that sports is now dissected in essentially two ways – human-interest angles and algorithms. And I’ve yet to see any team’s use of sabermetrics lead to a world championship of any kind; data still can’t get to the line with 10 seconds left. But while watching another effortless Durant 24-foot jump shot swish through in the game’s final minute Monday night, I have to give it up to the Moneyball crowd on this one:

Durant’s numbers tell the story of why he is having the best season in pro basketball – heck, one of the greatest seasons of any shooter ever in the NBA.

Where Durant ranks among LeBron in the NBA's hierarchy is not up for debate here, but there's no question he's having one of the best offensive seasons of anyone ever.

He has led his team to greatness by being great. He has taken the concept of big market super teams and trashed them. Just ask Kobe. Or anyone on the Los Angeles Lakers.

Durant's potency is often hidden beneath the shuffle of the rest of the league. Hell, it's often lost behind an ill-advised Westbrook jump shot.

But through and through, on a nightly basis, Durant remains both efficacious and demonstrative, and therefore, spectacular.

That can't be lost on us.

Not when he scores 40 points like it's a menial task. Not when he has rendered the Thunder the NBA's first 30-win team this season. Not when we're watching the equally captivating offensive exploits of a Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James.

And most certainly not when we're attempting to adjudicate who this season's MVP award belongs to.

 

*All stats in this article are accurate as of January 14, 2013.

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