Kevin Durant's January Was of Historic Proportions

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Kevin Durant's January Was of Historic Proportions
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant isn't just streaking his way to the top of the MVP ladder—he's putting himself in historical company.

Again.

With 30-plus points in each of his last 12 games, he's already claimed the longest such stretch in more than a decade. Bolstered by this torrid spurt, he's putting together one of the finest January months the league has ever seen:

So, what happened that allowed him to post video-game numbers like these? More importantly, what exactly will this mean for his future?

 

Museum-Quality Scoring Outbursts

KD warned us this was coming.

The signal came so early, though, that most of us had filed away those words deep in our memory banks by the time his plan came to fruition.

They appeared in April, via a profile written by Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins. KD was foreshadowing something sweet, but we took his comments as the frustrating rant of a man clearly tiring of being No. 2:

I’ve been second my whole life. 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 in second in the Finals. I’m tired of being second. I’m not going to settle for that. I’m done with it.

Anything more than a silver medal seemed unattainable with the best player on the planet, LeBron James, still sitting atop the hoops world.

Then January happened. Nothing has been the same since.

Just days removed from losing All-NBA running mate Russell Westbrook to his third knee surgery since April, KD opened the month with 24 points (on 61.5 percent shooting) in a 95-93 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 2.

Going for nearly a quarter-century on 60 percent shooting would be a signature season moment for a majority of players in this league. For Durant, though, it was essentially his basement-setter:

Two nights later, he was battling an inconsistent shot—and still sitting on 25 points after three quarters. Rough outings tend to look a little different for someone who racked up three scoring titles before his 24th birthday.

With his team trailing by 10 entering the final frame, and potentially looking at its first three-game losing streak of the season, he simply went berserk. He poured in 23 points, giving him a season-high 48, and led his Thunder to a come-from-behind 115-111 win over the host Minnesota Timberwolves.

"The special ones can have a poor shooting night and come down at the end of the game and make four or five to win the game," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after the game, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "That's how they're wired because they're great players."

After setting his season high, it would take him all of two games to match it. He blitzed the Utah Jazz for another 48 on Jan. 7, although OKC stumbled to a 112-101 loss.

He's held his head above the 30-point mark in every game since, eclipsing 40 points three separate times:

It's hard to pick a masterpiece out of an artwork collection like this, but his monstrous performance on Jan. 17 would carry that title if one was assigned.

The Thunder welcomed the championship-hopeful Golden State Warriors to Chesapeake Energy Arena that evening. Durant greeted his guests with a merciless beating, the likes of which even he'd never seen.

Maybe there was something to that "not nice" campaign after all. By the time the Dubs had escaped to their team bus, Durant had bullied and battered them for a then-league-wide season-high and personal career-best 54 points.

"He's a special talent, a superstar basketball player, an all-time great," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said, via NBA.com's Randy Renner.

He's also so much more than a scorer.

 

Overstuffed Stat Sheets

There were legitimate worries over how much Westbrook's absence would hurt this team. After all, his 2013 playoff exit (torn meniscus) was followed shortly thereafter by the Thunder's.

OKC went 21-4 with Westbrook in the lineup, establishing dominance in a fully loaded Western Conference. The question wasn't whether the Thunder might slip without him, but just how far they would fall.

Well, OKC has barely so much as stumbled. The Thunder are 14-5 since Westbrook went under the knife and are riding a league-best nine-game winning streak.

If KD had simply turned up the volume of his scoring, OKC isn't surging right now. The MVP front-runner has done a little of everything, though, a development that Brooks credits for his superstar ascension, via Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News:

What he’s doing is scary and anybody else playing like he is would be looking to get more shots. But not Kevin. The last two years, he’s been a consistent two-way player, but now he’s taken it to another level. He was never able to see the passes he sees now because the game has slowed down for him. And if he doesn’t play defense like he does, our team doesn’t work. Nobody wants to play on a team with a guy who just wants to score. He’s not like that.

KD isn't selfish, even though his skills say he'd be more than justified to play that way.

Remember, we're talking about someone King James has a hard time defending:

Someone who Brooklyn Nets guard Shaun Livingston said seems to have been plucked straight from the virtual world, via Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

"He has the height (6-foot-11) of a center, the range of a shooting guard, the handles of a point guard and the offensive understanding of a coach," Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman wrote. "Unblockable shot, unguardable drive, unthinkable moves."

His scores on the quantity and quality tests are both off the charts. In 15 games this month, he's not only averaging 36.6 points, he's doing it on .539/.418/.888.

That efficiency is jarring on its own. It's almost unbelievable when considering his level of involvement in the offense and the amount of defensive attention he's getting without Westbrook drawing some of that heat.

KD is welcoming that extra pressure, though, and punishing teams for giving it to him. Still raw as a playmaker (3.3 career assists per game), he's dropping six dimes a night this month. There are only 17 players in the league clearing that mark this season, and only one of them is a nonguard (James, 6.4).

Marc Serota/Getty Images

He's also tallied 6.3 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 0.9 blocks over his last 15 outings. Drop those figures to just six, 1.5 and 0.5, respectively, and you're still left with only five players reaching those numbers on the season.

There have been 20 30-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist games this season. Durant and James are the only two players to have posted those stat lines at least three times. James has exactly three of them. Durant has five, three this month alone.

His scoring numbers are keeping him on the front page. His all-around game is what's holding his Thunder atop the Western Conference.

 

What Happens Next?

Well, at some point both he and the Thunder have to stop streaking.

He's getting unselfish to the point where you wonder if his scalding scoring stretch will end by a lack of shots. OKC features him at length, but he's never seemed as if he's chasing numbers.

The bigger questions are those revolving around what exactly lies in his future.

The MVP award feels like it's his to lose, but there's still more than two months left in the season. He could lose his top spot just as quickly as he claimed it.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Westbrook's return will make the Thunder even better, but it will likely cost KD some numbers. It will be interesting to see how that impacts the award voters.

This season is bigger than all of this, though. More than a historically productive month, video-game numbers and even that elusive piece of hardware.

Durant is ready for his chapter in the game's history books. He has a few mentions already, but we're witnessing the makings of someone capable of controlling an era.

That era doesn't start without a championship. Short of a ring, this scoring streak, these jaw-dropping January box scores all disappear, until the next scoring phenom forces us to go look them up again.

Put a title at the end of this season, though, and suddenly all of these elements are locked into the annals of NBA lore—the official birth of the game's next legend.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

 

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