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Kevin Durant's Scoring Binge Hiding What Makes Him Special NBA Superstar

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Kevin Durant's Scoring Binge Hiding What Makes Him Special NBA Superstar
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Kevin Durant just can't stop scoring. 

The Oklahoma City Thunder should surely love the work he's been doing in the points column, particularly because he can't be stopped on any given night. I mean, just look at these two sets of stats and try to avoid letting your jaw hit the floor: 

The saving grace—at least in terms of preventing a bruise on the bottom of your chin—is that it's Durant we're talking about. Scoring exploits and binges like this are to be expected, and anything less would be considered almost disconcerting. We've come to expect that much from him. 

But that's the last time I'll focus on his scoring. 

While OKC loves it and he surely enjoys posting gaudy totals, the season-long focus on his numbers in the NBA's most glamorous statistical category have detracted from recognition of his overall development.

No longer does one thing make Durant into a special superstar. 

Now his all-around game does. 

 

Facilitating

Durant has become more of an offensive powerhouse than a scoring specialist during the 2013-14 season. Even though it's his point totals that have drawn the most interest from the media and casual fans, he's been distributing the rock like he fancies himself as a point guard. 

Throughout the year, K.D. is averaging 5.5 assists per game, and his turnovers have stayed right at the level they've been at over the last few years of his prime. That's impressive enough, but things look even more stellar when you dive into the metrics. 

Durant has posted a 26.8 assist percentage during the 2013-14 campaign, per Basketball-Reference, and that's a fairly elite mark. To put it in perspective, Ricky Rubio serves as the caboose for the top five in the Association with a 38.1 assist percentage. And he's a passing specialist. 

Among non-guards (though I'm including swingmen in the equation), only seven qualified players in the NBA have assist percentages on the right side of 20: 

  1. LeBron James, 31.6
  2. Kevin Durant, 26.8
  3. Joakim Noah, 25.3
  4. Gordon Hayward, 24.5
  5. Josh McRoberts, 21.7
  6. Nicolas Batum, 20.7
  7. Kevin Love, 20.4

That's it. 

But now let's add one more factor into the search (via Basketball-Reference). How many of these guys have also turned the ball over on less than 15 percent of their possessions? 

Now the number drops to just four—Love, Durant, McRoberts and LeBron. At this point, is there any doubt the OKC forward is an elite facilitator for a non-guard? 

Making these even more significant is the fact that Durant's passing really is a development: 

Maybe He'll End Up Playing Point Guard
Year AST% TOV%
2010-11 13.2 10.6
2011-12 17.5 14.0
2012-13 21.7 13.7
2013-14 26.8 12.5

Basketball-Reference

That is a massive leap forward in assists, and it's also accompanied by a decline in turnovers. Basically, it's an unreal, MVP-caliber development, one that shouldn't be overshadowed by his scoring. 

But it is. 

Part of the reason for that is what makes his development as a facilitator even more impressive. During the games in which Durant has gone off in the points column, he's also managed to keep his teammates involved; the ball just spends that much time in his hands. 

The league's leading scorer has dropped 30 points on 40 separate occasions this year, and he's recorded at least five dimes in 28 of those outings. In fact, he's even recorded four double-doubles in scoring and assists during the games in question. 

"The most impressive part about each of those assists isn't necessarily the accuracy; it's the decision-making, the timing," writes B/R's Fred Katz. "Durant gets the ball out of his hands so quickly. He sees plays develop easily enough that it allows him to run the break so much more effectively." 

Even if the development hasn't gotten the attention it deserves, there's no getting around the fact—yes, the fact—that Durant is now a point forward in the truest sense of the positional designation. 

 

Defense

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It's time for a guessing game.

Your goal? Figure out which player is Durant based on the following numbers: 

Find Durant!
Player DRtg DWS PPP Allowed PER against 3s PER against 4s
Player X 107 2.5 0.92 13.7 21.0
Player Y 105 2.9 0.84 10.7 14.8
Player Z 102 3.8 0.81 10.0 11.8

Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com

Player Z is clearly superior across the board. He's posted a lower defensive rating, earned more defensive win shares, held opponents to fewer points per possession and kept small forwards and power forwards from earning higher player efficiency ratings than the other two players. 

That would be Kevin Durant. 

Now of course, this wouldn't be impressive if I were comparing the offensive standout to defensively inept standouts like James Harden and Kevin Love. That's why it's quite important that Player X is Nicolas Batum and Player Y is LeBron James, both of whom are considered ace defenders. 

Durant hasn't just been an adequate defender this season. He's been a stalwart on that end of the court. 

Enough with the blind comparisons, though: 

Durant vs. Paul George
Player DRtg DWS PPP Allowed PER against 3s PER against 4s
Durant 102 3.8 0.81 10.0 11.8
George 96 5.4 0.81 12.4 N/A

Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com

Paul George takes a few categories, but it's actually a close competition. And this is a guy who's being called the best wing defender in the NBA with increasing frequency. 

Although he won't draw any Defensive Player of the Year votes and is a long shot to make an All-Defensive team—due to a lack of attention, not a lack of numbers—Durant has become an elite point-preventer. According to Nick Collison, who recently spoke to NBA.com's Steve Aschburner, a lot of credit should be doled out to Durant's intense focus: 

More possessions being engaged. Fewer possessions of spacing out. I think that’s all of us. It’s a long season, 82 games, and to avoid the distractions and always be engaged in the play that’s right in front of you…the more possessions you have like that, the better you are. A sign of that with him is, defensively, he’s taking less plays off. He’s in the right spot.

If anything, Collison is selling his teammate short. 

Durant is doing more than taking less plays off; he's thriving while actively engaged. On top of that, he's guarding plenty of different players. 

The Oklahoman's Anthony Slater claimed that he was intentionally matched up against Blake Griffin, LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Marc Gasol during a six-game homestand, and he also relayed a quote from Scott Brooks about his star player's defensive versatility. 

"No," Brooks responded to a question about the existence of matchups Durant couldn't handle. "There’s some bigs, some centers, where he might need a little help. But his length...Kevin, he can guard 1-through-5 on certain possessions."

I feel like I've heard that before. 

Oh yeah. We've heard it used plenty of times to describe LeBron while making a case for his DPOY candidacy. 

Is Kevin Durant the best player in the NBA?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Apologies for circling back to that LeBron vs. Durant battle that has popped up innumerable times during the 2013-14 season, but the OKC superstar is forcing my hand. He's reached the level where only one person in the current NBA can possibly be compared to him, hence the necessity. 

Unfortunately, you'd miss plenty of his greatness if you focused solely on his scoring exploits. Don't make that mistake during the rest of the season, or the postseason for that matter.  

Impressive as they may be, they're only one facet of a well-rounded superstar's game. 

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