NBA: Key Takeaways from Kevin Durant's Explosive December

Joshua J Vannuccini@@jjvannucciniSenior Analyst IIIDecember 31, 2013

NBA: Key Takeaways from Kevin Durant's Explosive December

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    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    There are few NBA players that can supplant LeBron James as the league's best, but Kevin Durant is undoubtedly the closest. 

    His all-around dominance has slowly evolved over the past few seasons, but it was especially evident as Durant led the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 14-2 record through December.

    It's seemingly evident what sort of player he has become, but Durant's play this month still left room for analysis, both now and for the future.

Durant Is the League's Best Scorer

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    This isn't as much a takeaway as it is a confirmation. It's been considered for some time that Durant was the league's best scorer, but it's become fact based on his play this month.

    Durant put up 28.9 points per game through December, all the while shooting a crazy 54.1 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range. He hit 2.2 long-range shots per game, ranking him top 20 in the league in that category.

    Durant also shot 88.5 percent from the free-throw line, on par with his career average of 88.3 percent yet down from last season's 90.5 percent. It's a completely negligible difference, but it remains supremely accurate nonetheless.

    If that wasn't enough, Durant topped the 30-point threshold nine times through the 16 games he played in December. He shot 50 percent or better in six of those contests, with his best contribution coming against the league's best defensive team in the Indiana Pacers.

    Durant scored 36 points on 60.9 percent shooting, helping the Thunder blowout the Pacers in Oklahoma City in a 118-94 victory.

    Again, it's far from news that Durant is a talented scorer. It's also been common knowledge that he's potentially the best at it in the league. But his performance this month has confirmed, without doubt, that Durant is the most versatile and talented scorer in the NBA.

Durant Has Got the Hang of Distributing

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    The above video keys in on Durant's scoring and passing, which have both been key parts of his game, but KD has begun to fully master the latter.

    For much of his career, Durant has averaged more turnovers per game than assists. The last two seasons have been the only two in which distributing has trumped error, with Durant averaging a career-high 4.8 assists per game this year.

    He's still committing 3.2 turnovers per game, on par with last season's 4.6 assists/3.5 turnovers, but it's been Durant's play through December that has shown improvement.

    Durant dropped his turnovers to 2.6 times per game, all the while keeping his assist numbers up at 4.6 per game. It isn't a dramatic improvement, but it's enough to merit consideration. 

    Players won't suddenly become intelligent passers overnight, so any improvement (no matter how slight) is something to take from. Durant doesn't have much room to improve in many areas, but his struggle to pass efficiently has always been a knock on his game.

    That looks to be a thing of the past, as Durant is becoming a better passer as the season goes on.

Oklahoma City Will Be Okay Without Russell Westbrook

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    It was devastating news for the Thunder when Russell Westbrook needed another surgery on his knee, as reported by the Associated Press.

    He'll miss approximately 27 games, but will surely miss time until after the All-Star break. Westbrook showed he's a quick healer, ultimately returning just two games into this season despite being slated to come back much later.

    While it's obviously bad news, the Thunder can remain optimistic with Durant's play sans Westbrook. He's put up 33.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists in the last two games without his point guard, keeping OKC afloat the top of the Western Conference.

    Durant averaged just 35.7 percent shooting in the three games Westbrook misses earlier in the season, but that can be attributed to early-season rust. He still put up 24.6 points (42 points in the season opener), but Durant will be able to carry his team with a ton of success in any case.

Durant Evolving as the League's Best All-Around Player

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    The title of "best player in the NBA" rightly goes to LeBron James of the Miami Heat, but Durant is making it harder and harder to put him second. 

    Some players are talented in a multitude of areas, but the best in the league are able to dominate many areas consistently. As aforesaid, James is a master at taking over games in whichever area the Heat need (whether it's scoring, distributing or defense).

    Durant is right there as well, but hasn't been able to do it every night. Yet through December, the All-Star forward got back on track and was everywhere for the Thunder.

    Durant put up 28.9 points and 4.6 assists on the offensive end, scoring and distributing with ease despite the return of Russell Westbrook. That isn't to say Westbrook would impact Durant's production, but it's noteworthy to see the scale of Durant's production despite playing alongside another All-Star player.

    Defensively, Durant was dominant averaging 1.2 blocks and 1.8 steals. He also pulled down 8.7 rebounds (8.1 defensive boards) per game, all the while committing just 2.3 fouls in 36.8 minutes.

    In doing so, Durant has pushed Oklahoma City to the top of the league standings. The Thunder's 25-5 record (14-1 at home) is mere percentage points ahead of the Indiana Pacers, but the team has a pretty secure lock atop the Western Conference.

    The credit can't be given to anyone except Durant, with his all-around production becoming a consistent staple for OKC. The Thunder are back as the best team in the West, and it's just a matter of time (or years) before Durant is credited as the best all-around player in the NBA.