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Breaking Down Kevin Durant's Historic MVP Pace

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Breaking Down Kevin Durant's Historic MVP Pace

In his quest for an NBA crown, Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant has taken his game to an iconic level in 2012-13 and is making a compelling case for MVP honors.

The Western Conference king is scoring at will and displaying improved ball-handling and passing, along with fabulous defense. Consequently, he owns statistics rarely seen in NBA history.

It's scary for the rest of the league when the three-time defending scoring champ is getting better in every shooting category. Durant is swishing his way to career highs in field-goal percentage (52 percent), three-point shooting (43 percent) and foul shots (90 percent).

He's on pace to join the elusive 50-40-90 club (at least 50 percent on field goals, 40 from the arc and 90 on free throws).

Among those who accomplished the efficiency trifecta, only Larry Bird's 1987-88 season yielded more points per game than Durant's 2012-13 pace.

OKC's main man has developed into a scorer who is comfortable shooting from anywhere. His three-point percentage went from 29 percent as a rookie to 43 percent now, and his true shooting percentage is a crisp .654, second in the NBA among non-post players (via Basketball-Reference.com).

He hasn't just improved his three-point tosses. Durant has also upgraded his step-backs, runners and drives.

His resilience through contact plays a major role in helping him execute these moves. He hasn't built much muscle since entering the league, but he's a little bit stronger, tougher and craftier in traffic.

Durant's toughness and resourcefulness are reflected in his 52 field goals on 102 shot attempts in the post (51 percent), according to Synergy Sports. That's a healthy rate of success for a slender small forward.

On the road, his prowess is even more valuable for the Thunder, who lean on him to score often. He registered eye-popping totals in away games in mid-January:

There's nothing like sharing a statistic with Air Jordan himself.

Durant's expanded skills have helped to balance out his shooting locations and make him less predictable. When he entered the NBA, he favored the right-hand dribble pull-up more than the left. Now he's confident and ambidextrous, able to convert from anywhere.

Defenses can't shade him one way or another because he can elevate and shoot from all angles and ranges, not to mention drive and finish off the glass with either hand.

Kirk Goldsberry of Grantland.com brilliantly illustrates Durant's dramatically improved shot distribution:

Courtesy Kirk Goldsberry of grantland.com

 

The Thunder's go-to guy has used his enhanced finesse to become a substantially better passer, and it only strengthens his MVP candidacy. With James Harden out of the picture, Russell Westbrook and Durant needed to ramp up their facilitation, and they answered the call.

Durant implements hesitation dribbles and crossovers more than ever to foil defenders, and he regularly necessitates help defense.

Nowadays, he anticipates the help defenders need sooner and exploits it, giving his teammates high-percentage looks. And he's doing it with career-best efficiency.

Prior to this season, Durant had never posted more assists than turnovers. He's gone from 3.5 assists and 3.8 turnovers (0.92 A/TO ratio) in 2011-12 to 4.4 assists and 3.2 turnovers (1.38 A/TO) in 2012-13.

He can diagnose defenses from the point, pass from the post and facilitate in transition. When you add that kind of versatility to a lethal scorer, opponents need flawless defense in order to survive.

Durant has also dialed it up a notch defensively in 2012-13. He's reaching personal bests in steals per game (1.6) and blocks per game (1.2) while holding opposing small forwards to a paltry 9.4 PER, according to 82games.com.

The tools were always there for him to be a solid NBA defender, but this season, he's finally putting them all together: cleaning up the defensive boards, moving laterally against wings, helping protect the post and defending passing lanes.

Durant exhibits great positioning when defending the low block and uses surgical precision when blocking shots. Just ask Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith.

He also has lightning-quick hands on the perimeter. Just ask Philadelphia 76ers guard Jason Richardson.

His wealth of production on both ends of the floor gives him a plus-17.1 point differential for the Thunder (per 82games.com), and he's carried OKC to the second-best record in the NBA.

What more does he need to do to earn your MVP vote?

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