By scoring 35 points in a 102-95 road win against the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 20, Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant extended his scoring streak of 25 points or more to 33 consecutive games—placing him just seven away from Michael Jordan’s mark of 40 straight.
The historical context of catching an NBA legend like MJ is worth noting in any circumstance, but would breaking Jordan’s streak ensure MVP honors for KD?
The 25-year-old forward explained last April that he’s sick of finishing second, per Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins.
"I’ve been second my whole life," he said. "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."
Durant’s play in 2013-14 has lived up to his word. He’s scoring a career-high 31.9 points per game, which puts him comfortably on pace to win his fourth career scoring title in a five-year span. Only Jordan, George Gervin and Wilt Chamberlain have accomplished that, per Basketball Reference.
He's also dishing out a career-best 5.5 assists per contest, shooting 50.8 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from three-point range.
The marvelous string of consistency has come to define KD’s season, but it’s only part of the overall MVP conversation.
Performance without Russell Westbrook
Durant started to separate himself from the pack as the Association’s best player in January, when running mate Russell Westbrook was sidelined with a knee injury.
During 2014’s first month, the Thunder star went on an absolute tear—and began his scoring streak with a 48-point outburst in a loss against the Utah Jazz on Feb. 7. He averaged video-game-esque stats of 35.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.6 steals, while burying 54.9 percent of his field-goal attempts and 43.6 percent of his threes.
His torrid month reached its zenith when Durant poured in a career-high 54 points against the Golden State Warriors.
All told, the lanky small forward put OKC on his back. Without Westbrook from Dec. 27 through Feb. 13, the Thunder went 20-7 (19-7 with KD in the lineup).
The floor general’s absence was a variable poised to set Oklahoma City back, but Durant didn’t accept that as an excuse for losses.
While this factor may have more bearing in the eyes of conspiracy theorists, the historical context of voter fatigue in the NBA carries its weight.
Take, for instance, the case of former Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash. The Canadian floor general won back-to-back MVP awards under head coach Mike D’Antoni in 2004-05 and 2005-06, but he had his best year from a statistical standpoint one year later.
Despite shooting a much better percentage from the field and three-point arc in 2006-07, while also leading the league in assists, Nash missed out on winning the award for a third straight season. Instead, Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki was named MVP for his stellar campaign. He didn’t live up to MVP hype in the playoffs, however, as the Mavs were knocked out by the No. 8 seed Golden State Warriors in Round 1.
Four-time MVP LeBron James is also familiar with this phenomenon, as he missed out on his own three-peat when Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose took home the honor in 2010-11. Here’s the comparison:
This isn’t to say D-Rose didn’t deserve the award, but his numbers compared to LBJ’s certainly help bring voter fatigue into the equation.
Those modern examples fail to mention the man with the historic scoring streak. Jordan arguably should have won MVP in 1992-93 and 1996-97 when he was at the peak of his powers, but voters went a different route with Charles Barkley and Karl Malone, respectively.
I think that KD has already separated himself as the clear-cut MVP favorite due to his transcendent play without Westbrook, but Bleacher Report’s Fred Katz believes the race between James and Durant will come down to the regular-season’s final moments:
"This year's MVP race between James and Durant is as close as it's been in years. And whether it's right or wrong, that probably means the trophy is going to whoever has the most memorable final three weeks of the season."
Can KD Beat the Streak?
Fair or foul, historical achievements and player-to-player comparisons often dominate award narratives. The NBA is a “what have you done for me lately?” league where even the most transcendent of performances can turn stale. Many fans are snobs for greatness, always hoping for someone to up the ante.
Where will KD's scoring streak finish compared to MJ's?
In OKC’s next eight games (the total needed to break the streak of 40), three will be played against teams with a top-10 defense in terms of defensive efficiency—San Antonio Spurs (fourth), Toronto Raptors (eighth) and Houston Rockets (10th).
At this juncture, it appears that only an injury or suspension could slow KD’s rhythm.
Getting tagged with his 14th technical foul of the season against the Cavs means he is just two away from a suspension. Of course, even missing a game during the current streak hasn't hindered the star’s dominance.
After sitting out Jan. 24 against the Boston Celtics due to a sore shoulder, Durant picked up right where he left off the following day. He threw together a ho-hum triple-double with 32 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers.
KD is thriving in the prime of his career as a 25-year-old veteran—an odd term, but he's already playing his seventh professional season. It doesn't appear as if anything will become an obstacle for him as he tries to thwart his reputation as "second best."
Beating MJ's streak would be an impressive accomplishment, and, perhaps more importantly, it would coincide with the end of the season. Being the hot topic when voters cast their ballots will only help Durant's case for his first ever MVP.