Blueprint for Kevin Durant to Steal LeBron James' MVP Throne in 2013-14

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistSeptember 20, 2013

Blueprint for Kevin Durant to Steal LeBron James' MVP Throne in 2013-14

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    If anyone can dethrone LeBron James as the NBA's Most Valuable Player in 2013-14, it's Kevin Durant.

    The Oklahoma City Thunder superstar has finished second to LeBron in the MVP voting three of the past four seasons. Suffice it to say, he's not thrilled about that.

    "I've been second my whole life," Durant told Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins in April. "I was the second-best player in high school. I was the second pick in the draft. I've been second in the MVP voting three times. I came second in the Finals. I'm tired of being second. I'm not going to settle for that. I'm done with it."

    Taking the MVP from King James won't be easy. He's led the league in player efficiency rating, win shares per 48 minutes and total win shares every season since 2008-09.

    Coming off back-to-back championships, LeBron will enter the 2013-14 season as the presumptive MVP favorite for the third straight year.

    Here's how Durant can stop LeBron and win his first MVP award.


    Note: Unless otherwise noted, all statistics come from Basketball-Reference

Win the Scoring Title

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    For Kevin Durant to oust LeBron James as the NBA's Most Valuable Player, he needs to outpace LeBron in multiple statistical categories.

    To begin building his MVP resume, Durant, a three-time league scoring champion, needs to retake that crown from Carmelo Anthony in 2013-14.

    A late-season scoring binge by Anthony helped him lock up the scoring title in 2012-13. He overtook Durant for the scoring lead on April 7 and never let go, averaging an eye-popping 36.9 points per game throughout the month of April.

    K.D., who averaged a none-too-shabby 26.1 points per game in April, didn't gun for the scoring title once Carmelo surpassed him. Durant actually dialed back his field-goal attempts from there on out, taking a total of 53 shots over his final four games of the regular season.

    So long as LeBron has Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as teammates, he'll have little chance of leading the league in scoring. On the other hand, with Kevin Martin now in Minnesota and Russell Westbrook coming off a torn meniscus, the Oklahoma City Thunder will rely more than ever on Durant's scoring prowess.

    Durant's career-scoring high, 30.1 points per game, occurred back in the 2009-10 season. Going for 30-plus points per game in 2013-14 and reclaiming the scoring title would be the first step toward dethroning LeBron as MVP.

Post Another 50-40-90 Season

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    Raw points scored aren't everything in today's NBA. Shooting efficiency is the name of the game these days.

    In 2012-13, Durant became only the seventh player in NBA history to average more than 10 points per game while shooting at least 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line.

    Had Carmelo Anthony not stolen the scoring title from K.D. in the final few weeks of the season, Durant would have been the first player in NBA history to ever lead the league in scoring while posting a 50-40-90 season.

    It's no accident. Durant has his own analytics expert to help him hone his shooting approach.

    "Let's say you've got 40 apples on your tree," Durant told Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins. "I could eat about 30 of them, but I've begun limiting myself to 15 or 16. Let's take the wide-open three and the post-up at the nail. Those are good apples. Let's throw out the pull-up three in transition and the step-back fadeaway. Those are rotten apples. The three at the top of the circle—that's an in-between apple. We only want the very best on the tree."

    LeBron James also finished the 2012-13 season shooting over 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range, but he only knocked down 75.3 percent of his free-throw attempts. Another 50-40-90 season for K.D. in 2013-14 would only further bolster his MVP resume in comparison.

Continue Expanding His All-Around Game

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    Unless Kevin Durant drops 40 points per game in 2013-14, scoring alone won't be enough to earn him the Most Valuable Player award over LeBron James.

    LeBron's well-rounded game is what makes him such a shoo-in MVP candidate most seasons. If he's not destroying an opponent by lighting up the scoreboard, he's racking up assists or imposing his will defensively.

    Durant made major strides as a passer during the 2012-13 season. He averaged a career-high 4.6 assists per game and finished the season with a career-high assist percentage of .217, clearly making an effort to adopt more of a point-forward mentality.

    When the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden, they lost one of their most proficient passers. Kevin Martin was more of a catch-and-shoot player than Harden, which put more ball-handling responsibilities on the shoulders of Durant and Russell Westbrook.

    Durant stepped up his game defensively last season, too. He actually allowed fewer points per possession on plays he personally defended (0.80 PPP) than did James (0.84 PPP), according to Synergy Sports.

    If he hopes to win MVP in 2013-14, K.D.'s growth as an all-around playmaker can't stagnate. Ideally, he should aim to average a career-high 5.0 assists per game and finish within the top 50 in points per possession allowed this season (he was 61st in 2012-13).

Guide the Oklahoma City Thunder to 60-Plus Wins

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    Given how lopsided the 2012-13 Most Valuable Player race became, it's easy to forget that Kevin Durant and LeBron James were neck-and-neck up until February.

    In late January, ESPN's J.A. Adande called Durant the NBA's first-half MVP. ESPN's SportsNation agreed, with 47 percent of 106,000-plus voters putting Durant over James in the MVP race after the first half of the season.

    Aiding K.D.'s case in the first half of the season? Their teams' respective win-loss records.

    Fresh off their 2012 championship, the Miami Heat got off to a relatively slow start in 2012-13, looking like they were fully content to coast through the regular season. The Oklahoma City Thunder, meanwhile, were right there with the San Antonio Spurs for the best record in the league through Feb. 1.

    Once the calendar flipped to February, though, everything changed. The Heat ripped off a 27-game win streak, the second longest in NBA history, which solidified James' MVP case in the process.

    The Thunder finished the 2012-13 season with 60 wins, but it paled in comparison to the Heat's 66-16 record. For K.D. to oust LeBron as MVP, he'll need to guide OKC to another 60 wins in 2013-14 and pray for more parity in the Eastern Conference.

Accrue the League's Most Win Shares

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    LeBron James led the NBA in player efficiency rating, win shares and win shares per 48 minutes in each of the past five seasons.

    If Kevin Durant hopes to dethrone James as the league's Most Valuable Player, he'll need to ensure LeBron doesn't repeat all three of those feats for a sixth straight year.

    Considering that James and Dwyane Wade are the only two players within the past five seasons to post a PER above 30, Durant would face an uphill battle catching James in that regard. K.D. did post a career-high PER of 28.3 in 2012-13, though, for what it's worth.

    Surpassing James in win shares would appear to be Durant's most realistic bet. James led the NBA with 19.3 win shares in 2012-13, but Durant wasn't far behind with 18.9.

    If the Oklahoma City Thunder finish with a better record than the Miami Heat in 2013-14, there's a realistic chance that Durant will end up with more win shares than James. After all, Miami recorded six more wins than OKC in 2012-13, and 'Bron earned only 0.4 win shares more than K.D.

    Of course, win shares aren't the be-all, end-all when it comes to the MVP race. But again, to have any shot of dethroning James as MVP, Durant needs to surpass him in as many statistical categories as possible.

A Reduction in LeBron's Minutes

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    Even if Kevin Durant accomplishes everything on this list, there's still a chance it won't be enough to knock LeBron James off the Most Valuable Player perch.

    LeBron could always do his best Oscar Robertson impression and do something ridiculous, like average a triple-double over the course of the entire 2013-14 season. If that happens, all bets are off when it comes to anyone stopping him from claiming his third straight MVP award.

    Then again, it's also possible that James has less of a chance to make his impact felt on each game than he has the past few seasons. The Heat's signing of Michael Beasley could help earn LeBron a few more minutes of nightly rest.

    No one should expect Beasley to be a major impact player for the Heat this season. He's on a one-year, nonguaranteed contract; there's no lock that he even survives training camp.

    But if the Heat are looking to preserve LeBron for the 2014 playoffs, the Beasley signing makes sense. He'll have James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh surrounding him, which could help wean him off his poor shooting habits.

    Even if Beasley only plays 15-20 minutes per game, that could mean LeBron drops from playing nearly 38 minutes per game to 34-36 minutes. It's not a huge difference, but it could open the door for Durant to steal the MVP.