Why Kevin Durant's Historic Scoring Streak Matters

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistApril 7, 2014

So it seems this Kevin Durant guy is pretty good.

And you better believe that matters.

Facing a scrappy Phoenix Suns team on Sunday night, the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar went for 38 points in 43 minutes, extending his 25-point streak to 41 games, rising above some uber-exclusive, unquestionably legendary company:

Whenever one NBA player attaches his name to Michael Jordan's, that matters.

What say you, Kevin?

"I don't really care about it," he said after losing to Phoenix, per The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry. "I wish it was over."

Au contraire, sir Kevin. You should care. Losing to the Suns while battling for second place in the Western Conference matters. It matters a lot. But so does this historic scoring streak.

Personal accolades don't always matter in the scheme of playoff and title races, but Durant's does. It's also historically significant for reasons that aren't limited to mentioning "Slim Reaper" and "His Airness" in the same sentence. 

We all, Durant included, better believe that matters.


The Michael Jordan Thing

Pretending the Jordan aspect of Durant's point-totaling stretch doesn't matter is futile. It does. It matters.

Jordan technically went for at least 25 points in 40 consecutive games twice. There was the streak in 1986-87, and the one that began toward the tail end of 1987-88 and lasted into the start of 1988-89. For our purposes, the 1986-87 streak is more important since it didn't span two different seasons.

On multiple levels, Durant's current run is statistically better than Jordan's back then.

Read 'em and try not to weep:

Durant's Streak vs. Jordan's
MJ 1986-874039.637.313.628.
KD 2013-144139.334.811.422.
Basketball-Reference and NBA.com.

The efficiency with which Durant has founded his stream of scoring upon is just absurd—hypnagogic, even. His shooting percentages are better than Jordan's.

Like, markedly better.

Those arguing that Jordan attempted six more shots per game are right, but that's not enough to discount Durant's performance. He's attempting 6.2 three-pointers more than Jordan did, rendering his towering efficiency that much more impressive.

None of this is meant to downplay the significance of Jordan's stretch, either. What he did, the volume in which he scored, was simply amazing. 

What Durant's doing now is just equally, if not more, astounding.


The Wilt Chamberlain Thing

Here come the old-school basketball purists who enjoy yelling at clouds and holding staring contests with plywood.

After Durant extended his 25-point streak to 40 games, the New York Daily News' Mitch Lawrence penned what is an incorrect take on Wilt Chamberlain's own span of dominance:

But there were times in the 1961-62 season, especially when the Celtics went up against a young Wilt Chamberlain, when Cousy did have to call a play or two because at the other end. Chamberlain was as close to a one-man wrecking crew as the great Bob Cousy or anyone else in the NBA had ever seen.

That season, Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points a game, scored 100 points against the Knicks, went for at least 30 points in 65 straight games, and put together a stretch when he scored at least 25 in 106 straight games, covering the next season, with some of those epic performances coming against Cousy’s teammate, Bill Russell.

Those are all records that will probably never be equaled, much less surpassed. But the way they were talking about Kevin Durant’s recent scoring stretch — Friday night in Houston, Oklahoma City’s MVP candidate scored at least 25 points (28) for the 40th straight game — it’s as if Chamberlain’s marks don’t even exist.

Although I cannot speak for everyone, I've yet to incur or hear anyone act as if Chamberlain's numbers "don't even exist." That hasn't happened.

Durant's recent play is incessantly compared to Jordan's because his 40-game run is the modern-day record. I'm not trying to be one of those guys, either. That's just how it is.

The game was different during Chamberlain's day. That's a fact. We also have easier access for pace-adjusted stats between Jordan's era and now. That's important.

That—here we go again—matters.

Let's not even hold up the Chamberlain-was-an-unprecedented-athletic-specimen-playing-during-an-unathletic-time card. The game was just different. Chamberlain was different.

Take the 1961-62 crusade, during which Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points. He logged 48.5 minutes per game in that time—yes, 48.5—for a grand total of 3,882.

Chamberlain also attempted 3,159 total shots that season. Think about what that did to his shot totals per 48 minutes compared to Durant and Jordan.

Now look at what it did:

KD. vs. MJ. vs. Wilt
PlayerFGA Per 48 MinutesPPG
Wilt 1961-62 Overall39.150.4
MJ 1986-87 Overall33.337.1
MJ During Streak34.237.3
KD 2013-14 Overall25.832.1
KD During Streak27.134.8
Basketball-Reference and NBA.com.

Notice how many more shot attempts Chamberlain was averaging. Again, those 39.1 shots per 48 minutes were actually less than he was attempting a night. The per-48 minute totals are just a cleaner way to show contrast.

For argument's sake, let's say Durant was attempting 39.5 shots every game like Chamberlain did in 1961-62. Based on his scoring output during this streak—34.8 points on 22.2 field-goal attempts—Durant would be averaging 61.9 points per game, easily exceeding Chamberlain's mark of 50.4.

To be certain, this is beyond rough. Durant would never play enough minutes to hoist up that many shots, nor would he launch that many if he did. There's also the three-point line to consider. 

But that's the thing. These are different generations we're talking about. Where Chamberlain had ridiculous size and inferior competition, Durant is obnoxiously efficient.

Don't measure their accomplishments against one another. They're so different. Chamberlain's 50.4 points per game and 106 consecutive 25-point outings were sensational then. Durant's scoring streak is spectacular now.

Appreciate that.

Then realize that, in spite of what Lawrence says, Durant's run is most definitely in the same galaxy as Chamberlain's. 


The Doing Everything Thing

Perhaps more than anything, Durant's ability to do everything and anything else makes this scoring streak so special. 

In addition to scoring so much, Durant is also averaging seven rebounds and 6.1 assists over his last 41 games. Can Jordan say the same of his 40-game dash?

Sort of.

Doing It All
NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.

This isn't another Jordan-Durant comparison. It's essentially a crash-course reminder. 

Both Jordan and Durant did basically everything. They dabbled in different areas, but they were able to contribute in every aspect of the game—not just scoring.

That, again, matters. 


Setting New Standards

As it turns out, Durant's scoring streak is more than just a scoring streak. It's a barrier-breaking efficiency streak as well.

Durant's streak is mostly Durant being Durant, redefining what we know about the correlation between efficiency and volume scoring. What's he's doing is unprecedentedand typical for him.

Take a look at his offensive numbers for the last 41 games compared to what he's doing this season:

Durant Being Durant
Last 41 Games34.811.422.
2013-14 Overall32.110.520.750.7%

I mean, whoa. 

For the life of his streak, and the entire season, Durant has maintained a true shooting percentage above 64 while attempting more than 20 shots per game.

Know how many other (qualified) players have done that in NBA history?


If Durant's current numbers hold, he'll have the highest true shooting percentage of any player to launch at least 20 field-goal attempts per game. Adrian Dantley currently holds the record. He notched a 62.2 true shooting percentage while jacking up 20.3 shots per game in 1980-81.

Better still, Durant is on pace to post the second-highest true shooting percentage of anyone to ever pour in at least 30 points per game, behind only—you guessed it—Dantley, who finished with 65.2 and 30.6, respectively, during the 1983-84 campaign.

That's makes Durant historically efficient. Not just during his scoring brigade, but for the entire season. 

That matters. 

Even though some, like ESPN's Ethan Strauss, question its validity, it matters:

Even though First Take's Skip Bayless won't acknowledge its importance, it matters:

It matters because it's not something you can expect. Not entirely. Durant has paired volume scoring with unprecedented efficiency. That's something to acknowledge, something to laud.

Appreciate how often his points are coming. Appreciate how accurate he is.

Most of all, appreciate what this has meant for the Thunder, who have battled Russell Westbrook's extended absence, among other things, only to remain title contenders because of Durant and—largely—this streak.

That matters.


*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com (subscription required) unless otherwise noted.


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