Will Kevin Durant Get to 20,000 Points Faster Than LeBron James?
Well, that and thousands of jump shots, dunks, layups and post-ups in the 725 games in nine-and-a-half seasons leading up to it.
That shot officially made James the youngest player in league history to join the 20,000-Point Club. At 28 years and 17 days, LeBron accomplished the statistical feat more than a year faster than did Kobe Bryant, the previous record-holder, who was 29 years and 122 days when he scored his 20,000th point.
But as impressive as James' latest milestone may be (achieved on a night when he also collected his 5,000th career assist), he'd do well to cherish his distinction while he can.
That is, if Kevin Durant has anything to say about it.
Durant dropped a relatively modest 20 points (on an efficient 7-of-12 shooting) to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 117-97 thumping of the Denver Nuggets on January 16. That brought his career scoring total to 11,098 points at the tender age of 24 years and 110 days. Durant eclipsed the 10,000-point plateau earlier this season, but, in that regard, still stands behind LeBron, who hit the mark when he was 23 years and 59 days old.
Much of LeBron's advantage here can be attributed to the age at which he entered the NBA. James went pro straight out of high school and debuted about two months before his 19th birthday. Durant, on the other hand, spent a year at Texas on account of a rule instituted by the league in 2005 that prohibits the entry of players into the NBA draft who aren't yet 19 and/or aren't at least a year removed from high school graduation.
As a result, Durant didn't play his first regular-season NBA game until about a month after his 19th birthday. That put Kevin about three months behind LeBron's eight-ball from the moment he started, even though Durant probably would've been ready to fill it up had he been allowed into the draft straight out of Montrose Christian School after his senior year.
Still, even that disparity in time can't completely account for LeBron's edge in scoring over Durant at the same age.
Notice how the lines for each level off a bit as they approach and pass the age of 24. That indicates that each player started slowing down a bit, at least as far as scoring is concerned, after peaking around the age of 21.
But, in LeBron's case, he went from scoring a career-high 31.4 points per game during his age-21 season, down to 27.3 points during his age-22 season and back up to 30 points per game during his age-23 season. Durant, on the other hand, topped out at 30.1 points at the age of 21, dipped to 27.7 points at the age of 22 and practically duplicated that number (28 points) at the age of 23.
In that frame, then, it seems unlikely that Durant will be able to score his 20,000th point at a younger age than did James.
That is, until you expand the picture a bit to 28 years and 17 days (i.e. LeBron's current age).
Durant's case in the graph above is held back by the fact that his age-23 season came during the lockout-shortened season, while James' came during a regular, 82-game campaign.
For the sake of discussion, let's assume that KD continues to score at a clip of just under 29 points per game—his average between the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons (his last two 82-game seasons) and barely ahead of his current 28.7 point-per-game average in 2012-13. That equates to approximately 2,317 points per season.
At that rate, Durant would indeed become the youngest player in NBA history to score his 20,000th point, with approximately 20,366 points to his name by the age of 28.
Such a spectacular scoring rate would put Durant at the mark in question well before his 28th birthday. In this case, Kevin "benefits" from celebrating the yearly occasion on September 29th, about a month before the typical NBA season tips off.
But, suppose Durant's 29-point-per-game average holds. He'd then need just under 13 games to score another 366 points after nabbing his 20,000th. Assuming the NBA season still comes to a close in mid-April, that places the actual milestone-crossing day in mid-to-late March of 2016—right around the time that Durant has finished blowing out the candles on a cake to celebrate being 27-and-a-half.
If half-birthdays are at all a thing in his life at that point.
That'd be a rather remarkable accomplishment, to become the youngest player to score 20,000 points by more than six months despite starting about three months later by age. To expect Durant to score 29 points per game over the next four years may seem a bit generous, at least when considering his career average of 26.5 points per game.
But such an accomplishment seems far more feasible when evaluating the way in which Durant has improved and evolved as a scorer since his third season—the first in which he won the scoring title. After averaging 20.3 points and 25.3 points in his rookie and sophomore year, respectively, KD has gone on to contribute approximately 28.7 points per game from year three up to the present day.
What's more, he's become an even more efficient scorer in that span. Since experiencing a slight dip in scoring and accuracy in 2010-11, Durant's productivity has improved, and dramatically so in some ways.
At present, Durant's posting career-high percentages in field goal shooting (.525), three-point shooting (.402) and free-throw shooting (.901). If those numbers hold, Kevin will join the likes of Larry Bird, Steve Nash, Reggie Miller and Dirk Nowitzki (to name a few) as just the eighth member of the famed 50-40-90 Club.
This is one area where Durant holds a clear advantage over James in the historical scoring race. Kevin came into the NBA as a sharpshooter and has only honed his skills in that regard. LeBron, to his credit, has improved by leaps and bounds as a marksman, but he didn't even begin to sniff Durant's territory as far as accuracy is concerned until last season.
Will Kevin Durant become the youngest player to score 20,000 points?
Durant also has the upper hand in that he's a "pure scorer" on a team that needs him to score, whereas LeBron has always been a facilitator who has the talent to score. The Thunder have always needed KD to light up the scoreboard, and Durant's responsibility therein has only increased since general manager Sam Presti sent James Harden to the Houston Rockets.
While Kevin is splitting that job with just one other superstar (Russell Westbrook), James has the luxury of sharing it with two—Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Thus, the onus isn't necessarily on LeBron to aim for 30 points or more on any given night, so long as he's also setting up his teammates for easy baskets.
Assuming Durant's scoring duties don't diminish on account of OKC adding another superstar talent, a la the Heat, he shouldn't have too much trouble surpassing LeBron's age-related mark.
Keep in mind, too, that Durant's still only 24. He's done a wonderful job of expanding his repertoire from year to year, to the point where he's now posting up in addition to launching silky-smooth threes and taking defenders off the dribble. His game only figures to grow from here on out, so long as he doesn't lose too much of his latent athleticism and isn't bitten by the injury bug as he approaches his prime.
Which, for LeBron, may well mean that his reign as the king of the 20,000-point youngsters may not last a full four years.
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