Kevin Durant’s scoring prowess has reached the point where we must wonder whether he is the best wing scorer since Michael Jordan. Durant surpassed Jordan's streak of 25-point games, which puts him in the discussion of great scorers.
To figure out whom his main competitors are, we will look at perimeter players who have won multiple scoring titles since Jordan played his last game with the Chicago Bulls.
That’s quite an impressive assortment of names, and it’s certainly a testament to Durant’s talent that he is in this discussion.
He will be only 26 years old by the time next season starts, but his youth has not stopped him from making history. Durant has already collected three scoring titles and will add a fourth one at the conclusion of the regular season.
Is that enough to feature him above some of the previously mentioned greats? We will look at how Durant’s offensive repertoire stacks up with his counterparts to determine where he ranks.
Durant’s game has so many layers to it that he has become an unstoppable scorer.
Standing at 6’9’’, Durant is always going to be a matchup nightmare at the small forward position. There simply isn’t any defender equipped to bother his jump shot and stay with him from a lateral quickness standpoint.
The Point Forward’s Rob Mahoney explains:
Kevin Durant is a scorer, and that he will always be. His jumper will always be effortless, and the backspin on his shot will always make a subtle splash in the net upon its landing. The instincts and abilities that have made Durant the most potent scorer in the league over the last few seasons won’t soon wane, and defenses will always be forced to account for his scoring potential from the moment he steps on the court.
The one weakness Durant had previously stems back to his first two seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He wasn’t strong enough to shake physical defenders, and consequently, he often caught the ball and had to initiate his offense a few feet behind the three-point line.
Defenders like Metta World Peace bothered him immensely. Durant has since increased his strength and become practically infallible on the offensive end.
LeBron James echoed that sentiment in January to the media, per ESPN.com: “Individually, he can't be stopped by any one-on-one player. There's nobody that can guard him one-on-one."
Durant is an exceptional shooter off the dribble, which at times forces defenders to crowd him. He owns the highest field-goal percentage on pull-up jumpers among players attempting at least five such shots per game, according to SportVU data tracking.
As a result, teams will at times try to take away Durant's air space, which allows him to blow past them with his solid ball-handling skills. What’s more, he is also a good spot-up shooter, and the combination of Durant's gifts causes defenders to commit mistakes.
Watch below as Shawn Marion tries to defend Durant. Marion is so worried about getting beat off the dribble that he simply forgets to actually guard Durant at the three-point line:
One can understand Marion’s fear. Durant converts 58 percent of his shots on drives, which is the league's second-best figure among players attempting at least five drives per game, according to SportVU data tracking.
As impressive as his perimeter game is, Durant is also quite a load in the low-post area. Per Synergy Sports (subscription required), the player known as the Slim Reaper hits 47.6 percent of his post-up shots.
Durant is not your average post player, though. The very best usually have a go-to move they love to use. Normally, this pet shot serves as a means to set up defenders.
For instance, Michael Jordan loved using fadeaway jumpers as well as baseline drop steps on the low block. He often faked these moves and got defenders to bite. It allowed Jordan to get to the hoop for scores.
But Durant is different. Because his post-up skills aren’t quite yet refined, he just catches the ball in the post and takes fadeaway jump shots. Have a look:
Durant is in the learning stages, but it’s probably wise to think that he will follow in LeBron James’ footsteps and progressively evolve as a player with his back to the basket. Nonetheless, Durant is as deadly as they come in this setting.
Remember, Durant's prime is still roughly two seasons away. The likes of Bryant and Jordan started operating on the low block in their late 20s and early 30s, around the time they reached their physical and mental peaks as players. Thus, we are probably a few years away from Durant becoming unstoppable in the low post
As if things weren’t already unfair enough for the league, Durant marries all of this with a 40.9 percent conversion rate from downtown. These details help us understand how it is that he pours in 30 points on a nightly basis without looking too bothered by defenders.
Interestingly enough, Durant might be a more accomplished scorer than most of his predecessors. Take Allen Iverson as an example. Many remember him as one of the greatest finishers in NBA history, but the numbers paint a different picture.
Per NBA.com, Iverson hit 60 percent or more of his shots in the restricted area twice (1999-00 and 2000-01) during his 14 seasons. He wasn’t a particularly good shooter, nor did Iverson always take good shots, as evidenced by his career 42.5 percent shooting mark.
Granted, Iverson was great at getting himself to the free-throw line, and he could make even the best defenders look silly with his crossover.
That leaves us with Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant.
McGrady was basically the origin point for Durant. McGrady’s repertoire was essentially a mirror image of what Durant consistently displays. T-Mac was a skilled ball-handler and explosive finisher at the rim.
Also, he was a proficient pull-up jump shooter who thrived in isolation situations. Watch him dribble out the clock and then drain a contested trey:
However, there is one key difference between McGrady and Durant: Durant does everything better from a scoring standpoint.
When comparing both players, it’s probably best to look at McGrady’s production with the Orlando Magic as opposed to the Toronto Raptors. McGrady started out his career in Toronto, but he only became the focal point of the offense in Orlando.
Through his first seven years with the Magic, he averaged 26.9 points on 43.8 percent shooting, per Basketball-Reference. Teams had trouble finding defenders that could match both his size (6'8") and athleticism.
And yet, McGrady falls short in comparisons with Durant. Through his first seven campaigns, Durant has attempted more free throws on average and converted a higher percentage of field goals and free throws.
Hence, this leaves Bryant as the last to compare.
The Black Mamba might have the most complete scoring arsenal of any perimeter player since Jordan. Bryant is an exquisite ball-handler and also one of the best wing post-up players in league history.
Furthermore, he scores with floaters, pull-ups, fadeaway jumpers and baskets right at the rim. Bryant has devised every conceivable way to put points on the board, and it’s helped him become the Los Angeles Lakers’ all-time leading scorer.
Count Durant as one of Bryant’s fans, based on words he shared with Los Angeles Daily News’ Mark Medina:
He’s the greatest of all time. His skill is second to none. Him and MJ are neck and neck as far as skill. Kobe is the top two best ever in just having skill, footwork, shooting the 3, shooting the pull-up, posting up, dunking on guys and ball handling. Kobe and Jordan are 1 and 1A.
Durant’s repertoire does not yet rival Bryant’s, and even then, it might not matter. Ideally, Durant could improve his post-up game and possess an array of moves that end up making Bryant jealous.
Here’s the dirty little secret though: If Durant’s offensive prowess were to plateau after this season, he would still be every bit the scorer Bryant is. Durant might not be as sophisticated as Kobe, but he has one thing his counterpart has often lacked…
Durant is the most efficient scorer in league history, and it’s really not all that close.
His marksmanship from every area on the floor, coupled with his superb free-throw shooting, makes him one of the most destructive scorers ever. Durant’s proficiency makes his competition look average in comparison.
Have a look at his career scoring average and shooting figures when matched up against the players with multiple scoring titles since Jordan retired. Pay careful attention to the last column, which refers to true shooting percentage. It’s every shooting figure bunched up together (courtesy of Basketball-Reference):
The graph reveals that Durant is easily the most efficient scorer of the group. What’s more, Durant has a knack for taking great shots, but don’t be fooled into thinking that his shot selection is all that different from other notable scorers.
Indeed, starting in the 2008-09 season, 82games.com tracked player field goals in accordance with shot clock usage. Iverson and McGrady were clearly on the decline and no longer among the scoring leaders. Thus, we won’t bother looking at their output on this front.
Bryant, conversely, was still among the very best at putting up points.
He has been known to take multiple shots late in the shot clock, and he’s not alone. The data reveals that both Durant and Bryant have taken roughly 14 percent of their shots with approximately 21 seconds or more having elapsed on the shot clock.
This reveals that Durant takes low-percentage shots as well, and that he is simply better than others at converting whatever field-goal attempts come his way.
And by better, we could be talking about the best ever. Indeed, have a look at the list of players with a career scoring average of at least 25 points coupled with a minimum 55 percent true-shooting mark, courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com:
Durant owns the best true-shooting percentage of an illustrious group of Hall of Famers and eventual Springfield-bound players.
Furthermore, Durant is the only player in NBA history to average north of 25 points while posting a 60 percent true shooting figure. It appears widely evident at this point that Durant’s competition is not the cast of players that succeeded Jordan but rather the greatest of all time himself.
The GOAT: Michael Jordan
Durant’s point production essentially places him in the discussion with Jordan.
To be clear, Jordan is the greatest perimeter scorer in league history. Basketball-Reference.com tells us he has the most scoring titles (10) of any player, and Jordan accomplished this while making roughly half of his shots.
Durant outpaces His Airness in terms of efficiency, but Jordan scored more points on average. In addition, Jordan adjusted his game as his athleticism diminished over the course of his career.
Durant has not yet had to make such changes to his game, and it’s obviously impossible to determine right now if he will. However, Durant has progressively added moves to his repertoire with each new season, which suggests he should be able to continue evolving as his career progresses.
Durant is on pace to accumulate four scoring titles in his first seven seasons, which isn’t too far off track from Jordan, who collected five in the same time span. Also, if Durant were to average 27 points per game the rest of the way (owns a 27.4 career scoring average), he would surpass Jordan's career 32,292 points by age 36 roughly.
Durant might never catch Jordan, but the idea that Durant has a shot is indicative of the fact he is the greatest perimeter scorer since Jordan.
All stats accurate as of April 6, 2014.