Kevin Durant Is Still the MVP We Know and Love

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterJanuary 3, 2015

Getty Images

Being a superhero doesn't render someone impervious to injury. Even Superman crumbled in the presence of Kryptonite.

It's not invincibility, but rather the ability to bounce back from such setbacks quickly, with authority and without missing a beat that separates superheroes from mere mortals.

Well, that and some sort of talent that's beyond human.

By those standards, Kevin Durant would be perfect fodder for a franchise in the Marvel or D.C. universe. Fortunately for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Durant is still the center of theirs, and he remains as strong a gravitational force as ever after battling back from foot and ankle injuries this season.

Two nights after returning to OKC's starting five to torch the Phoenix Suns for 44 points, Durant painted yet another masterpiece, this time at the expense of his hometown team. He needed just 18 shots (and seven trips to the free-throw line) to pile up 34 points23 after halftimeand propel the Thunder to a 109-102 win over the Washington Wizards.

As always, Durant was quick to distribute credit for his individual success. "I felt good shooting my shots," he told Thunder sideline reporter Lesley McCaslin after the game. "I got a lot of work in yesterday, but we ran some great plays, man. Russell was doing a good job of putting pressure on the defense, Reggie and our bench was setting screens, so it was on me to finish."

Indeed, KD got plenty of help from OKC's athletic guards. Russell Westbrook chipped in 22 points, six assists and two steals, despite tip-toeing through foul trouble. Reggie Jackson added nine points, eight dimes and a pair of steals off the bench. Each did their part to hound Wizards All-Star John Wall into a 5-of-13 shooting night.

Make no mistake, though: modesty aside, Durant came through whenever the Thunder needed him to. When OKC fell behind by eight points late in the third quarter, Durant followed up a Serge Ibaka jumper with back-to-back threes to tie the score at 82 heading into the fourth. When the feisty Wizards refused to fade over the final six minutes of the game, Durant was there with jumper after jumper after jumper to help the Thunder put some much-needed daylight between themselves and their visitors.

Just as he was in the fourth quarter against Phoenix, when he scored 13 points to force overtime before scoring or assisting on eight of OKC's nine points in the extra period. And just as he did two weeks before that, when he lit up the Golden State Warriors for 30 first-half points prior to turning his ankle.

Taken together, KD has been on fire to a degree rarely seen even in NBA Jam of late, as ESPN.com's Royce Young noted:

Which is all the more remarkable when considering the 26-quarter gap that divided Durant's Bay Area shooting show from his evisceration of the Suns.

Of course, superhuman play is nothing new for Durant, the NBA's reigning MVP, even after an injury. He racked up 27 points (on 9-of-18 shooting) in just under 30 minutes during his first action of the 2014-15 campaign—after putting his foot under the knife in the preseason—in a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Last season, KD followed up his lone absence with a triple-double (32 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists).

To be sure, Durant isn't alone in that regard. Westbrook, KD's longtime running mate, seems to have gotten stronger every time he's returned from injury over the last season-and-a-half. Maybe OKC's training staff is privy to some sort of sorcery that the rest of the league has yet to discover.

Or, maybe the Thunder's superstars (Durant in this case) are such exceptional talents that the occasional collision with Kryptonite can't keep them down.

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Now, Durant isn't actually Superman in real life, but on the basketball court, he might as well be. Durant's 25.5 points per game would rank second in the NBA if he'd played enough to qualify for the scoring title to date. A handful of made free throws, and he'll be in line for his second 50-40-90 season in his last three—which only Larry Bird and Steve Nash have done before.

As great as Durant has been so far, though, he'll probably have to reach even greater heights with his play if he's going to defend his Maurice Podoloff Trophy. Stephen Curry, James Harden, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis, Kyle Lowry, John Wall, Damian Lillard, LeBron James, Jimmy Butler and Chris Paul have all done far more for their respective squads than Durant has for his, if only because they've each played at least twice as many games as KD has.

But none—not even James, it seems—can claim to be as singularly destructive an all-around force as Durant has proven to be when healthy. He may well barge his way into the thick of the MVP race if OKC does more than simply sneak its way into the West's top eight.

For now, he's come to OKC's rescue at the perfect time. The Thunder's win over Washington pulled them up to the .500 mark for the first time all season and kept them within a game-and-a-half of the eighth-seeded Suns, who crushed the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday.

"We never feel sorry for ourselves," Durant added during his post-game interview. "We never gave up. We just kept fighting. We've got a long ways to go. We've got to keep going."

Up, up and away they'll go, so long as Durant is physically fit to lead them.

 

Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.