Scoring is only one part of Kevin Durant's complex and potent on-court identity.
Putting points on the board at alarming rates has given Durant a reputation as the league's best scorer. Assaulting rims and opposing defenses has earned him three scoring titles. Continuing those offensive onslaughts has him on his way to a fourth.
But scoring isn't who Durant is. Not anymore.
More impressive than Kevin Durant’s dominance as a scorer is his evolution into a complete player on both ends. #Thunder— Ethan Norof (@Mr_Norof) January 30, 2014
Though they remain a big part of what he does, his point-dropping ways are one piece to a bigger puzzle. The Oklahoma City Thunder superstar isn't some one-trick pony riding the coattails of a single above-average attribute. He's more.
So much more.
Point forwards are the business.
Related: Durant is a point forward.
Though he's infrequently recognized as a LeBron James-type passer, that's exactly what Durant has become. Scorers with his green light can often fall into one-dimensional traps. Not him.
Durant is posting a career high in assists per game (5.2) and assist percentage (24.9), stepping up big in Russell Westbrook's absence and doing so while leading the league in scoring.
That's another underrated aspect of Durant's evolution—not just his willingness to pass but also his ability to balance it with high-volume scoring.
Only 13 other players have ever averaged 30 points and five assists per game for an entire season. It's an exclusive list that includes Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, Oscar Robertson and James, among others. If Durant keeps this up, he's going to join them.
More impressively, he's been even better during his current streak. You know the one; we just referenced it. Headlines are being crafted by the second dedicated to it. Even the point-totaling gods above are enthralled by how much he's scoring.
But that scoring has been accompanied by some serious passing.
When he's on the floor, Durant is assisting on 28.2 percent of Oklahoma City's baskets over the last 12 games. This is all while he's jacking up 22 shots and scoring 38 points a night, mind you.
Where does he find the time? The energy? The smarts?
Deep, deep down, where he knows that the scorer's moniker is only one part of his dynamic on-court identity.
Secondary to everything else about Durant is his defense.
Rarely is he celebrated for his efforts on the less glamorous end. It's less glamorous, after all. People care about points. Assists. Flamboyant shot attempts. They don't want to hear that Durant, perhaps the greatest offensive player on the planet, can play defense. Score more points, KD. Take more shots.
Slowly, quietly and surely, Durant has turned himself into a two-way threat. We cannot ignore his improvement on the defensive side any longer. Nor should we want to.
Durant has always been one to force turnovers and block the occasional shot. The last four seasons saw him send back at least one shot per game, actually. Perks of being 6'9" with an insane reach. But this year is about more than blocking shots (0.9) and forcing steals (1.5).
Slim Reaper's defensive numbers are elite.
Not only is Durant's defensive rating (100) tied for the best of his career, but it also ties him with Chicago Bulls wunderkind Jimmy Butler for the third-best mark among all players logging at least 35 minutes per game, behind only Paul George (95) and DeAndre Jordan and Lance Stephenson (98).
Notice something about that exclusive list of players? You should. Three of them are considered elite defenders—Jordan, George and Butler—and Stephenson, after taking the head-first leap into stardom, has become lauded for his defensive play too.
Then there's Durant, who rivals their effectiveness while seeing more action a night (38.2 minutes) than all of them. No big deal.
Only it is.
The Durantula's defensive rating has improved almost every season like clockwork. Save for a slight spike during the 2010-11 campaign, he's been generating career results every year.
This season has been especially convincing, as he's on pace to become just the sixth player since 2004 to register a defensive rating under 101 after playing more than 38 minutes a night. The other five include Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Gerald Wallace, Shawn Marion and Luol Deng, all of whom are/were considered staunch defenders.
Garnett, Deng and Howard have 18 All-Defensive selections between them. That's some pretty stellar company. And it's typical company. Durant has been defending that well.
According to 82games.com, Durant is holding opposing small and power forwards to a combined average PER of 9.7 this season. The league average is 15 (green arrow), making that absurd.
And again, typical.
Since entering the league, Durant's individual defense has steadily reached levels bordering on impregnable. The last time a small or power forward posted an above-average PER against him was during the 2009-10 campaign, his third NBA season.
There won't come a time when you see him contend for Defensive Player of the Year, and you'll never see him generate more praise for his defense than his offense. But he doesn't need to.
Almost seven years into his NBA career, Durant has established himself as a more than capable and potentially elite defender.
So Much More
Durant can score, and he'll continue scoring. That's part of his charm. But it's not his entire charm.
Scoring will always be his most lethal weapon, but it's Durant's ability to ally that scoring with defense and selflessness, all while taking the dreaded one-dimensional label often placed upon scorers and ripping it to smithereens, that makes him so dangerous.
"I'm just always concerned with what my team thinks about me," Durant told Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen. "I'm not out to impress anybody in the media or fans in the stands. I'm just always looking for approval from my coaches and my teammates."
This need for approval from those who matter most has allowed Durant to elevate his game. To become much more than a guy prone to finding the bottom of the net.
It's this Durant who has the Thunder perched atop a brutally competitive Western Conference without Westbrook. Who is doing everything while on a scoring streak for the ages.
Who is one of the most complete players the NBA has to offer.