Is Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony the Better Pure Scorer?

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2014

USA Today

When you turn on your television and Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony shows up, you know that you're going to be in for an explosion of points. 

Though LeBron James, Kevin Love, Stephen Curry and a few others are close, the aforementioned duo is lighting up the scoreboard better than anyone else in the league. They're No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the race for the scoring crown, and that's exactly how it should be. 

After all, it was 'Melo who wrested the crown away from Durant during the 2012-13 season, even though the Oklahoma City Thunder forward had worn it each of the three seasons prior. 

But that's the past. We're talking about 2013-14 now. 

There's no doubt Durant is the key figure on the Thunder, and Anthony's offense gets the New York Knicks going, but which one of the two is the superior pure scorer?

Does Doing Other Things Matter?

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - NOVEMBER 21:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder passes the ball from the ground against the Los Angeles Clippers on November 21, 2013 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly a
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

What exactly does it mean to be a "pure scorer," and does it mean that a player must only be a scoring specialist? 

The first question is slightly more complicated, but I'd argue that the latter is rather easy to answer. Being a great pure scorer and a tremendous all-around player are not mutually exclusive concepts. Having other impressive aspects of your game to boast about doesn't take away from the ease with which you put points on the board. 

It's important to note that, because both 'Melo and Durant do other things quite well. However, it's the former who fits more of a scoring-only mold than the latter. 

While the Knicks superstar has been a dominant force on the glass and is consistently showing off a willingness to pass the rock, his OKC counterpart is an all-around paragon of basketball excellence. Durant is defending more effectively than ever before, and he's become a superb distributor while maintaining his utter dominance in the scoring column. 

Excellence in other areas simply shouldn't detract from a player's status as a pure scorer, and now is where we need to come up with a working definition of the relevant term.

The tradeoff between volume and efficiency is fairly well-known at this point. As one goes up, the other goes down, which make sense if you stop to think about it. If a player is taking 10 shots per game and making half of them, it stands to reason that he'll have trouble maintaining that 50 percent clip if he starts lofting up 20 attempts each contest. 

Pure scorers are the guys who do away with that tradeoff, because they put together inhuman combinations of attempts and percentages. Quite simply, they're the players in the NBA who are the best at scoring. 

They aren't necessarily the ones you want want taking the final shot of the game, though I'd argue they should be because the concept of "clutch" is irrelevant—a topic for another time. They aren't necessarily players who thrive far from the basket, as a pure scorer can be someone with absolutely dominant post moves. 

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 30: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicksn during a game between the New York Knicks and the Cleveland Cavaliers at Madison Square Garden in New York City on January 30, 2014.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agree
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

They're just really good at putting the ball through the hoop and lighting up the scoreboards in a way that's beneficial to their teams. As anyone who has watched Toronto Raptors Rudy Gay, Detroit Pistons Josh Smith or Milwaukee Bucks Monta Ellis knows, it is possible to score points in bunches and not have it be even remotely valuable. 

So, what does all this mean? 

It's great that Anthony is averaging 8.6 rebounds per game. I'm proud of Durant for posting a career-best 5.5 dimes each contest. 

But those numbers don't matter. They don't affect the players negatively, but they don't boost their statuses as pure scorers either. All that counts is what happens when a player takes aim at the rim, and he lets it fly. 

Breaking Down the Numbers

Feb 7, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) reacts against the Orlando Magic during the first half at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With that out of the way, it's tough to find many statistics that actually support 'Melo. 

There's only one: 62. 

Thus far in Durant's career, he's been unable to provide that type of scoring explosion, which does matter. The average performance is significantly more important, but Durant hasn't shown the same type of scoring ceiling that his New York-based counterpart has produced. 

When he dropped 54 points during a mid-January contest with the Golden State Warriors, that was the highest output he'd ever thrown together. That's eight points shy of Anthony's career high, and it's easy to imagine the disparity growing. 

Had the Charlotte Bobcats been able to score more points in Madison Square Garden, Anthony may have had an incentive to stay in the game longer.

He only played in the fourth quarter so he could set two records—the Knicks' franchise mark and the high mark in MSG. While his legs were certainly wearing out from carrying the massive scoring burden, it's not difficult to point to 70 as a benchmark 'Melo could've reached. 

But the phrase "could've, should've, would've" exists for a reason. 

Anthony didn't score 70 points. He scored 62, which is still an insanely impressive mark since he did so while shooting 23-of-35 from the field and recording a goose egg in the turnovers column. 

We're only going to look at what's actually happened, and that makes it clear that the 62-point outburst was a significant aberration during the 2013-14 campaign.

Above you can see the top scoring performances this season for each of the two point-producing studs. 

Where exactly is Anthony's advantage? That 62-point game is the only place one exists, as Durant's scoring level is higher throughout the rest of their top outings. In fact, K.D. scored 36 points as his 13th-best game of the season, and that's the equivalent of Anthony's third-best performance. 

If you add up the points in these 20 games, Durant checks in with a 101-point advantage. 

And he's been the superior scorer throughout the season as well. That's why he's pacing the NBA with 31 points per game, and those points come in a variety of ways. Durant is no longer just a jump-shooter who relies on the feeds of others. Instead, he's dazzling opponents with crossovers, pull-up jumpers and post-up moves galore.

You name the tool, and Durant has it. The versatility argument just no longer works in 'Melo's favor, even if he's still the more dominant player with his back to the basket.

Anthony sits well back of Durant's scoring average, averaging "only" 27.4. 

Those also come in a wide variety of ways, but I'd be remiss not to give the New York superstar credit for his ridiculously quick pull-up jumper. Few players have ever been quicker from dribble to release, and it allows Anthony to drill plenty of perimeter and mid-range looks that few players would even dream of attempting. 

However, we've only mentioned volume so far. Even though Durant is coming off an elusive 50/40/90 season, does efficiency help 'Melo close the gap?

Not exactly. 

Only the three-point bar is higher for Anthony, and I'd argue that he's still not as valuable from beyond the arc. The league-average percentage from beyond the arc is 35.8 percent, according to, and that helps out Durant. 

To determine value added from downtown, you perform two steps: 

  1. Subtract the league-average three-point percentage from an individual player's three-point percentage. 
  2. Multiply the difference by the player's number of attempts 

Point being, a player who shoots the average isn't affected by how many attempts he takes. But if you're above or below the average, the number of tries should be taken into account. 

By that calculation, 'Melo is providing 43.92 value points from three-point range. Durant checks in at 45.32. 

So if the Durantula's perimeter shooting beats out 'Melo's, where exactly does the New York superstar have a statistical advantage? 

The answer is simple—he doesn't. 

Now you could attempt to argue that Anthony is better at the attempts that are called "superstar shots," but there are two applicable counterarguments. 

First, why should that be a deciding factor?

Wouldn't you rather have a player who can create—and make—easier shots than the guy who needs to utilize the high-difficulty attempts. Kudos to players like Anthony and Kobe Bryant for their ability to make insane, falling-away jumpers, but I'd rather have the guy who manages to get open. 

If a player could score 20 points per game while doing nothing but throwing down dunks, that's good for him. That's as impressive as it gets, and we shouldn't knock him for deciding to make use of the most efficient shots in basketball. 

Secondly, just watch that video up above. 

Durant ain't bad at making "superstar shots," and he's consistently been able to drill jumpers in the face of intense defensive coverage. 

There's a reason LeBron hasn't been able to stop singing his praises. 

"Individually, he can't be stopped by any one-on-one player," the reigning MVP recently said about the current award favorite to's Brian Windhorst. "There's nobody that can guard him one-on-one."

Feb 5, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) shoots the ball over Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (12) during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

As Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry wrote about Durant before the season even began, "He is so good that the weaknesses on his shot chart are the spots where he’s only slightly above NBA average." 

And that was before he got even better. Durant's all-around game has been unbelievable this season, especially because he's putting up these monster numbers without the protection previously afforded to him by Russell Westbrook's presence in the lineup. 

Amazingly, the only place he's declined is at the charity stripe. That sub-90 shooting from the free-throw line is the one thing currently preventing him from submitting another 50/40/90 season, and he's doing so while topping 30 points per game. 

A comparison between Durant and 'Melo exists, but only because they're the two men pacing the Association in its most glamorous stat. 

Really, though, there isn't much of a question. When talking about scorers, this is Durant's league. Everyone else is merely bearing witness to his point-producing prowess. 


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