Where Kevin Durant Ranks Among All-Time NBA All-Star MVP Performances
Though the game finished with Stephen Curry completing a reverse alley-oop after throwing his own bounce-pass, that highlight came for the losing team. Led by Kevin Durant, Curry's teammate in real life but foe in these midseason festivities, Team LeBron came back to beat Team Giannis by a final tally of 178-164, thanks to an inspired showing in the second half and some red-hot shooting from the MVP.
Not much defense was played in the first half, but Durant and his compatriots actually stepped up the effort level in the second half, allowing a meager 69 points and ending Giannis Antetokounmpo's relentless assault on the rim. Everyone chipped in as Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard and Damian Lillard all spent time shooting flames, but Durant did just enough to emerge with that coveted MVP trophy.
Now, how does he stack up against all the other award-winning performers over the years?
Though these rankings will remain entirely objective, we're employing a slightly different methodology than the one used to determine the greatest overall performances in All-Star history. All stats mattered in that competition, which doesn't necessarily fly when we're only interested in the players who take home MVP honors.
After all, scoring now reigns supreme.
Of the 71 players who have held up the trophy over the years, 40 have been the highest scorers that night—56.3 percent of the winners. Compare that to rebounds (22.5 percent of MVPs led the field), assists (16.9 percent), steals (27.1 percent since they started being tracked in 1974) and blocks (14.6 percent since they started being tracked in 1974), and it becomes inordinately clear that points are the single greatest box-score barometer for our purposes. Overall level of play isn't quite as significant.
And that makes sense. These are exhibition contests in which fans are looking to be entertained, and point-producing runs tend to hold more sway than anything else. We want the dunks and triples and highlights.
So rather than just using the All-Star Score utilized in our previous rankings, we're also turning to Scoring Score—the Z-score for points while looking at all scoring outputs throughout the game's history. Add those two marks together, and you get the value displayed next to the featured players throughout this article.
You can succeed by putting together a remarkably well-rounded performance...or just by lighting up the scoreboard and providing fans with an offensive explosion they'll never forget.
2019 NBA All-Star MVP Kevin Durant: 3.968
All-Star Score: 2.069
Scoring Score: 1.899
Line: 31 points, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal, two blocks
Kevin Durant might go down as one of the most "Where did that come from? I forgot he was on the floor for a lot of this game!" MVPs in the history of this contest. Even though he finished the evening with an impressive line and exploded for 11 points, three rebounds and a block on 4-of-4 shooting during the final period to help complete the comeback, he was overshadowed for most of the night.
Stephen Curry provided plenty of highlights—his game-closing slam and, most notably, his ridiculous bouncing lob to a gravity-defying Giannis Antetokounmpo in the first half. And speaking of the Greek Freak, the Milwaukee Bucks superstar seemed like a lock to win MVP for much of the first two quarters before slowing down toward the end. Given his endless stream of dunks and his other variety of highlights, like a sling-it-ahead assist to Nikola Jokic, he had the best objective case to take home the award, even in a loss.
By our metric, Antetokounmpo would rank No. 3 in this countdown. You know, if voters had decided he deserved the victory despite failing to hang onto that 13-point halftime lead. His final line still looks rather impressive: 38 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and one steal on 17-of-23 shooting from the field.
Durant doesn't grade out as favorably. He checks in at No. 23 among all MVPs in the game's history, sandwiched directly between 2007 Kobe Bryant and 2002 Kobe Bryant—usually cause for more celebration than is merited on this Sunday night in mid-February.
Remember, performances are graded relative to the exploits of peers. So while it initially seems jaw-droppingly impressive that the Dubs superstar exploded for a 31-spot—tied with Bryant (twice), Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving for the No. 22 scoring output in the game's history—it's less laudable when you account for the night's offensive explosion. Only 2016 (369) and 2017 (374) provided more total points than 2019's 342.
We're not trying to take anything away from Durant. Finishing as a top-25 MVP in the 71-year history of the award is worthy of more than a perfunctory pat on the back. But that doesn't mean he stacks up favorably against these 10 performances.
At least he still has his 2012 All-Star MVP, which checks in at No. 16.
10. 1967 Rick Barry: 4.325
- Rick Barry: 38 points
- Oscar Robertson: 26 points
- Dave DeBusschere: 22 points
- Elgin Baylor: 20 points
All-Star Score: 1.927
Scoring Score: 2.398
Line: 38 points, six rebounds, three assists
Rick Barry didn't do much in the non-scoring columns of the 1967 All-Star Game, trailing five other players in the rebounding department and recording fewer assists than five of his teammates and three opponents. But no one came close to matching his point production:
And this was a surprise, especially because the future Hall of Famer was just a 22-year-old sophomore for the San Francisco Warriors, going up against a team comprised almost entirely of NBA legends. Seriously, the Eastern Conference boasted Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, John Havlicek, Jerry Lucas, Willis Reed, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell and Chet Walker. But as Barry himself recalled years later, per NBA.com's Paul Ladewski, he wasn't scared:
"All we heard was how the West team had absolutely no chance to win the All-Star Game, let alone even hope to be competitive in it. Personally, I didn't want to hear it. How can you say you're better than us until the game has been played? If you're better than us, then prove it on the court. I never needed additional motivation to play my best, but the talk fanned the flames nonetheless."
The fanning of the flames worked, as he led his troops to a 15-point victory, edging out fellow Warrior Nate Thurmond for MVP in the process.
Next Up: 2010 Dwyane Wade (4.323), 1956 Bob Pettit (4.282), 1977 Julius Erving (4.239), 1989 Karl Malone (4.146), 1959 Bob Pettit (4.145)
9. 1980 George Gervin: 4.337
All-Star Score: 2.224
Scoring Score: 2.113
Line: 34 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, three steals
Though it's tough to overshadow Magic Johnson and Larry Bird when they're making their All-Star debuts, neither player really factored into the MVP conversation. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was George Gervin's only true competition for that particular award, but his 17 points, 16 rebounds, nine assists and six blocks came A) while he turned the ball over nine times and B) while his Western Conference troops fell to their foes in overtime.
Yes, Gervin played for the San Antonio Spurs and still helped push the East to its victory. Don't be fooled, even if that seems backward now. The Spurs, then a part of the Eastern Conference's Central Division, wouldn't switch over to the West for one more year.
But moving beyond conference alignment...
Gervin thrived as a scorer throughout the season, so it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that he lit up the exhibition scoreboard. Using his patented finger roll and getting to the basket at will with his smooth athleticism, he paced the Association with his 33.1 points per game, which came while he shot 52.8 percent from the field. That scoring prowess carried over with aplomb, as he even upped that field-goal percentage to 53.8 percent (14-of-26) while lining up against Johnson and World B. Free in the opposing backcourt.
Though he needed overtime to get there, exploding for 34 points in an All-Star appearance shouldn't just be brushed aside. Only 17 people have ever done so, and Gervin qualified for the club while making his presence felt on the glass and the defensive end.
8. 2018 LeBron James: 4.384
All-Star Score: 2.627
Scoring Score: 1.757
Line: 29 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, one steal
The format change worked.
Rather than pitting the two conferences against one another, the 2018 All-Star Game featured a battle between Team LeBron and Team Stephen. And after years of lackluster intensity levels and nonexistent defense, the two sides legitimately looked like they wanted to win. Down the stretch, the contest resembled an actual basketball game as LeBron James helped erase a double-digit deficit in the final period.
Technically, late-game theatrics don't matter in this analysis. We're determining the order in purely objective fashion, and clutch buckets don't count any more than first-quarter efforts.
But anecdotally, James still seemed to help his case with that inspired frenzy near the end of the proceedings.
Falling just shy of a triple-double, he recorded 10 points and three assists on 4-of-5 shooting during the final period, with his lone miss coming on an errant triple from the top of the key.
Down the stretch, he drilled a step-back triple over Joel Embiid from the left wing to tie the game at 144-144 with 1:30 left and then used a Kyrie Irving assist to hit a heavily contested, lead-taking layup with 34.5 seconds remaining. He then recorded a dime of his own to Russell Westbrook that gave his squad a three-point lead with 10.7 seconds left while Team Stephen was ineffectively trying to foul.
Captains should step up, and that's exactly what James did.
7. 1994 Scottie Pippen: 4.734
All-Star Score: 2.977
Scoring Score: 1.757
Line: 29 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, four steals, one block
Scottie Pippen spent the 1993-94 season proving he could do everything for the Chicago Bulls while Michael Jordan swung and missed at a lot of minor league fastballs, and the All-Star Game proved no exception. When he wasn't leading the field in scoring, he was pulling down double-digit rebounds, hounding Western Conference players on defense and getting his teammates involved with a pair of dimes.
The steals and blocks alone are impressive enough. Throughout the history of the midseason festivities, only 38 players have managed to thieve the ball away at least four times. Just 11 have also managed to block at least one shot: Rick Barry, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, Julius Erving, Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson, Jordan, Sidney Moncrief, Dirk Nowitzki, Pippen and Deron Williams.
Let's cull the list further.
Pippen and Erving are the only listed men to also record double-digit rebounds. Just Barry, Bryant, Erving, Garnett, Jordan, Moncrief and Pippen joined the club while also scoring at least 20 points.
Notice how little overlap there is between the two subsections? Pippen and Erving stand alone as leading do-everything All-Star MVPs.
6. 2003 Kevin Garnett: 4.744
All-Star Score: 2.418
Scoring Score: 2.326
Line: 37 points, nine rebounds, three assists, five steals, one block
Speaking of stuffing the stat sheet...
Kevin Garnett did have the luxury of playing in two overtime periods before the Western Conference emerged with a 10-point victory, but he still made the most of his 41 minutes on the floor. None were more important than those during the final stretch, as he single-handedly took over the proceedings in the last few minutes by scoring the first seven points of double-overtime—and another two later—to cement his MVP as a certain legend watched from the bench.
This night was supposed to be about Michael Jordan, who was playing in the exhibition for the final time of his illustrious career. He and Kobe Bryant's head-to-head battle took center stage, even after the Chicago Bulls G.O.A.T. candidate got off to an ice-cold start by missing his first seven shots.
But by the end of the night, the game functioned as a Garnett coronation. He couldn't be slowed in any area, thriving as a go-to scorer and wreaking havoc with his rangy defense.
"I leave the game in good hands," Jordan said while standing alongside Mariah Carey at halftime, per CBS Sports' John Esterbrook. "So many great stars rising and playing the game. I have passed on the things that Dr. J and some of the great players—Magic Johnson, Larry Bird—have passed on to me, I pass on to these All-Stars here, as well as to the rest of the players in the NBA."
A 26-year-old Garnett wouldn't let him down.
5. 1958 Bob Pettit: 4.77
All-Star Score: 3.084
Scoring Score: 1.686
Line: 28 points, 26 rebounds, one assist
No player featured in this article won MVP while scoring fewer points than Bob Pettit in 1958, though he still outpaced Paul Arizin (24), Bob Cousy (20) and George Yardley (19) for the high score on the night in question. Plus, he looks better when compared against all MVPs in the game's history. Seventy-one trophies have been handed out over the years, and only 20 have gone to players who scored more than 28 points.
But scoring isn't why Pettit stands out.
Grabbing 26 rebounds in a single contest is nothing to sniff at, even if the two teams shot a combined 41.2 percent from the field and gave everyone plenty of board-crashing opportunities. Maurice Stokes (14) was the only other player in the game who tallied even half of Pettit's figure, while just Bill Russell (11) joined the two big men in double figures. Expand the temporal range to include more than just the 1958 outing, and this old-school Hawk just continues to stand out.
Only one performance in All-Star history has resulted in more rebounds, and it came four years later when Pettit topped his own record by a single board. Throughout his career, he managed to break past the 20-board threshold on three separate occasions—a milestone only Charles Barkley, Wilt Chamberlain (four times), Dave Cowens, Dikembe Mutombo and Bill Russell (twice) have reached even once.
4. 2011 Kobe Bryant: 4.966
All-Star Score: 2.64
Scoring Score: 2.326
Line: 37 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, three steals
As John Hollinger summed up for ESPN.com after Kobe Bryant sealed his fourth All-Star MVP in 2011, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar took his takeover instincts to that proverbial next level while leading the Western Conference to victory:
"Bryant achieved his point total by playing, how can we say this ... aggressively. Especially in the first half, he stopped the ball to look for his shot every time he caught it. Bryant admitted he knew coming in what the record was for points in the game (42 by Wilt Chamberlain in 1961) and had hopes of breaking it before the home crowd until he ran out of gas down the stretch.
"'He wanted to get the MVP,' said [Amar'e] Stoudemire. 'He was not passing the ball, at all. But that's Kobe.'"
"You could tell it was Bryant's night when he missed a free throw midway through the fourth quarter and it bounced straight back to him off the back rim, leaving an open 15-foot jumper that he drained easily. It was one of his few jumpers, as Bryant showed shades of his game as a much younger player by making repeated forays to the rim. Eleven of his 14 field goals came from inside five feet."
Especially during his 21-point explosion in the first two quarters, why would he have passed?
Everything clicked, highlighted by his dunk over LeBron James, who couldn't quite lead a comeback during an inspired second half that pushed him into triple-double territory. Somehow, James' performance managed to bring out the best in Bryant while simultaneously preventing him from pushing past Wilt Chamberlain's scoring record—a record currently held by our No. 1 finisher.
Bryant couldn't afford to go one-on-one during every play down the stretch. He and his Western teammates wanted that victory more than an individual high-water mark, so he started passing a bit more frequently at the right times, gaining the "W' but sacrificing his shot at even more glory in the process.
3. 2015 Russell Westbrook: 5.102
All-Star Score: 2.491
Scoring Score: 2.611
Line: 41 points, five rebounds, one assist, three steals
Russell Westbrook doesn't have an off switch. Not in the playoffs. Not in the regular season. Not even in the All-Star Game. When he's on the floor, that motor is humming as he seeks out lanes to the basket with which he can show off his gravity-defying, violent athleticism.
During the 2015 contest, Westbrook came off the bench and played only a shade under 26 minutes for the Western Conference. Eight players received more run that night, and the Oklahoma City Thunder standout wasn't even the most-used reserve guard on his own squad's roster; that honor belonged to Chris Paul, who recorded 12 points, six rebounds and 15 assists.
But a relative lack of playing time didn't keep Westbrook from exploding for the third-highest scoring output in All-Star history—a mark Paul George would tie one year later before Westbrook himself matched it in 2017. And tough as this may be to believe now that the 1-guard's shot has abandoned him throughout the first half of the 2018-19 campaign, he was nothing if not efficient. He turned the ball over just once, and those points came while he shot 16-of-28 from the field, 5-of-9 from downtown and 4-of-4 at the stripe.
The best part of all? Westbrook knew about Wilt Chamberlain's scoring record and went for it. He was just a little bit too hot to pull off the feat, counterintuitive as that may initially seem.
"I tried to miss the second one. But I guess I couldn't miss tonight, huh?" he said, per SLAM, after the game, referring to his attempted miss of a free throw with one second remaining. That was his only way to get the ball back and loft a quick jumper for a chance at the record, but it wasn't to be.
2. 1988 Michael Jordan: 5.821
- 1962 Wilt Chamberlain: 15.0 percent
- 1967 Rick Barry: 14.9 percent
- 2006 Tracy McGrady: 14.88 percent
- 1988 Michael Jordan: 14.86 percent
- 1975 Walt Frazier: 14.29 percent
All-Star Score: 3.281
Scoring Score: 2.54
Line: 40 points, eight rebounds, three assists, four steals, four blocks
As shown while ranking this Michael Jordan performance as the best overall outing in All-Star history (again, we weren't giving points as much weight there as we are here), the Chicago Bulls legend was pretty decent as a scorer in 1988. Only three players have ever notched a higher percentage of the total points in an exhibition contest:
Except...Jordan wasn't just a scorer.
His eight rebounds left him behind only Karl Malone (10), Hakeem Olajuwon (nine) and Moses Malone (nine). Just Magic Johnson (19), Isiah Thomas (15), Doc Rivers (six) and Alex English (four) had more assists. No one recorded more steals. Ditto for blocks.
Look, we'll make this simple.
Jordan was damn good at the whole basketball thing.
1. 2017 Anthony Davis: 5.929
All-Star Score: 2.535
Scoring Score: 3.394
Line: 52 points, 10 rebounds, two steals
Those poor, poor rims in the Smoothie King Center during the 2017 All-Star Game. It's nothing short of miraculous that they remained intact from start to finish, given Anthony Davis' relentless assault on their structural integrity.
While scoring 10 more points than anyone else in the exhibition's history, the New Orleans Pelicans big man put on an absolute show in front of a hometown crowd that was definitely still in his corner. He began the night with a smooth step-back jumper over Kyrie Irving that would prove massively misleading; even though he capitalized on the switch right away and showed off his perimeter game, he'd spend much of the evening right around the basket.
In the interest of full disclosure, not all of Davis' baskets were particularly tough. Everyone made a point of featuring the unibrowed Pelican in New Orleans, whether that meant forcing the action in his direction or giving him unfettered access to the rim. But he still produced, and it remains unfathomable that he completed a whopping 10 slams on the night.
We don't have full play-by-play access throughout the history of this contest, so we can't see if anyone has stuffed more shots through the rim. We can, however, tell you only 60 players have ever made 10 field-goal attempts in the game, regardless of whether they were jams.
Davis scored 26 buckets, which is seven more than anyone else in the archives. And hey, if we can unabashedly celebrate Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game while looking past several factors that should cloud some of the legend, we can do the same for this historic showing.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @fromal09.