As it stands right now, Lebron James is a freight train crashing toward another MVP trophy at the end of the season. The only player who has any hope of stopping him is Kevin Durant.
After leading many MVP polls in the beginning months of the season, Durant has fallen behind James again, who is averaging 30.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.7 assists on 66.3 percent shooting from the field in February. Durant has not played poorly during that stretch (he has averaged 25.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists), but he has not been able to match the level at which James is playing.
There are three areas Durant can focus on in order to at least catch James in the MVP race. None of them will be easy, but none are impossible either.
The most telling stat that separated the two in February was this: the Miami Heat went 9-1 while the Oklahoma City Thunder went 5-4. The biggest key to winning an MVP might be the most unfair one, being that your team must win games.
The Thunder did this during the first part of the NBA season, but they have cooled off considerably in the last month. The Heat are doing the exact opposite, starting out a little cold and now heating up as the home stretch of the regular season comes up.
Durant must win games, but he does not just need to win games—he needs to win a whole lot of games. Nine-game stretches where your team loses four games will not result in an MVP.
There are many teams that would be happy to win five of nine games, but the Thunder are not one of them. They will keep winning games; they are too good a team not to. However, they need to win almost every game for Durant to approach LeBron in this race.
Keep Doing It All
It is clear from watching Durant this season that, while he is still the lethal scorer he has always been, he has also attempted to diversify his game. Considering the relationship the two have, it seems incredibly likely that Durant is modeling at least some parts of his game after the MVP favorite.
He should be doing that if he wants to have any shot at winning the MVP. The reason that James is such a clear favorite is because he does everything for his team. Anyone wanting to challenge him needs to do the same.
Durant is averaging a career-high 4.5 assists per game, a career-high 1.2 blocks per game and a career-high 1.6 steals per game. While those stats are great for any other player, they only put him ahead of James in blocks. He is still trailing in every other category except for points per game.
There is a reason doing it all is so valued in the NBA. The reason is that it is incredibly hard. That’s why James is so respected and is the MVP front-runner. That is also why Durant has to do that even better if he wants to challenge James as MVP.
Up the Defensive Effort
Of all the comparisons you can make between these two players, the biggest gap between the two is on defense. James has become one of the best one-on-one defenders in the game. Durant must get better in this area if he wants to win an MVP this season.
Some players are better team defenders, and this is what Durant falls into. His numbers in steals and blocks are very respectable, but watching him live—especially in one-on-one situations—makes it obvious that he lacks a lot in the defensive department.
While this may not show up on the stat sheet so much, it is very obvious to MVP voters, who watch both of these players play. Durant’s lack of lateral quickness makes it obvious how far behind LeBron he is, given the suffocating defender James can be.
If Durant wants to catch James, he must become a better defender, continue to diversify his game and keep on winning a ton of games. There is very little wiggle room, especially given how dominant James is playing right now.
When Michael Jordan played, he was clearly the best in the league. It was not even close. LeBron James is approaching that type of dominance, but there is one player who could be the nemesis for him that Jordan really never had. Durant is that player.
These three ways for Durant to catch up are not impossible, but they are close.