During LeBron James’ mesmerizing, narrative-exploding run of MVP awards, you could easily imagine one of The Wire’s iconic lines sitting snugly in the back of his mind:
When you come at the king, you best not miss.
Unfortunately for James, Kevin Durant isn’t.
Over the past months, Durant has elevated his game to a level few doubted was there, even if the when and the how had yet to be determined.
As it turns out, the answers are right now and effortlessly.
To wit: KD is averaging 36.5 points (on 54 percent shooting, including 39 percent from three-point range), 6.5 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals through 13 January contests. In that span, he’s racked up 30 or more points in 10 straight games.
To those who would argue that a month’s stretch dos not a season make, consider this: Thanks to his most recent streak, Durant has officially supplanted James as the league’s most efficient scorer, per Synergy Sports:
Kevin Durant has moved ahead of LeBron James and now ranks as the league's most efficient scorer after his performance last night.— mySynergySports (@mySynergySports) January 22, 2014
At just 25 years old, Durant’s trajectory isn’t just eerily similar to that of James. It’s slightly better:
|LeBron James (2009-10)||29.7||7.3||31.1||.604|
|Kevin Durant (2013-14)||31.1||7.9||30.9||.643|
Of course, that season must seem like a lifetime ago for LeBron, who would endure Finals defeat and free-agency controversy before embarking on one of the most surreal two-year statistical stretches the league has ever seen.
All the while, his place as the game’s greatest player was all but cast in stone, with the second surest thing being who was behind him.
Never have the footsteps been more booming.
Granted, much of Durant’s increased production can be attributed—at least in part—to the absence of Russell Westbrook, who continues to recover from a December knee procedure.
Still, undertaking such a drastically increased scoring burden, while charting career highs in overall shooting efficiency, might be what ends up swaying the MVP votes in Durant’s favor.
And rightly so.
Should Durant nab his first, the conversation might well turn somewhere that would’ve seemed impossible just six months ago, even if it’s held in whispers: Is LeBron’s reign officially over?
To be sure, the King is getting the message loud and clear, and it’s not just Durant who’s serving notice. Via Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post:
Is LeBron going to try for 60 anytime soon? “I would like to. We’ll see what happens.”— Jason Lieser (@PBPjasonlieser) January 25, 2014
That tweet, of course, was prompted by Carmelo Anthony’s 62-point performance in the New York Knicks’ win over the Charlotte Bobcats Friday night—an explosion that rewrote the record books for both the Knicks and Madison Square Garden.
No one in his or her right mind thinks that Melo will ever threaten the throne. But when your basketball brilliance becomes this commonplace—when triple-doubles are racked up like onesies at a baby shower—it’s easy to have the narrative get away from you.
For as much as Durant’s antics have been (and should be) applauded on their own merits, it’s easy to see how the greater culture—obsessed as it always is with the next big thing—would be so quick to flip the script.
Make no mistake: LeBron James is the best, most complete basketball player on the face of the earth—even with the distance closing behind him.
For Durant to make up the final few gaits, he’ll need to best LeBron where it matters most: in the NBA Finals, where, oh by the way, James and the Heat still very much reign.
With a full five months between now and the season’s end—before the bronze and banners are finally given out—it’s impossible to predict where the game’s undisputed one-two will find their fortunes land.
But to those so quick to anoint the next in line, a word of caution from the King himself, as told to ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh:
I get jealous sometimes when I look over at KD and he's like 16-for-32 (from the field) and then 14-for-34...Man. But there are games where I have it going, and then at the end of the game, I'm like, damn, I shot just 12-for-16? Why don't I get up at least six or seven more? I definitely notice it.
If you’re Kevin Durant, you’d better hope against hope that what this King says doesn’t go.