Scotto: Durant Atop MVP Discussion with Historic January

BROOKLYN – Kevin Durant treated the league like a game of NBA 2K14 on a nightly basis in January. Kevin Durant

Durant is a 7-footer with the handle of a guard, the shooting ability of a sniper, the leaping ability of a kangaroo and the rebounding ability of a power forward.

Basically, he’s the player we all created from scratch in a video game as kids with the ratings boosted as high as possible.

Recently, Durant added “Slim Reaper” to his list of nicknames along with “KD” and “Durantula.”

It’s now time for a more appropriate nickname for Durant: “MVP.”

Deron Williams Head ShotDeron Williams believes Durant is the clear frontrunner for MVP.

“What he’s doing right now is just crazy,” Williams said Friday after Durant led the Thunder to a 120-95 victory over the Nets. “It’s going to be hard to argue about the MVP of this league with what he’s doing right now, carrying the team without (Russell) Westbrook. He’s one of the best ones I’ve ever seen.”

Oklahoma City has been without Westbrook – the Robin to Durant’s Batman –  since Dec. 27. After starting 5-5 without Westbrook, Durant’s historic month propelled the Thunder to 10 consecutive victories to become the league’s best team at 38-10.

Durant had a 12-game streak where he scored 30 or more points and had four or more assists. Within that streak, Durant became the second player – along with Kobe Bryant – to score 46 or more points four times in a 10-game stretch since the 1976 NBA-ABA merger, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Durant also became the first player to average 36 points, six rebounds and six assists in a full month since Michael Jordan did it in November 1988.

 

Speaking of Jordan, if Durant continues to average over 30 points while shooting over 40 percent from the arc, he will join Jordan as the only players to do so over a full season, according to Elias.

Jason Kidd, who played alongside two of the game’s greatest scorers in Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony, knew his Nets would have a tough time stopping Durant.

“When you talk about being a basketball fan, seeing someone play at this level at this time of the year as a fan is exciting,” said Kidd. “As an opposing coach, it’s scary. But it’s great for basketball and he’s great for the game.”

Durant torched Brooklyn for 26 points on 10-of-12 shooting in just 30 minutes in what may have been the most efficient game of his career. It was the first time Durant made at least 10 shots while shooting over 80 percent, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Shaun Livingston had the unenviable task to trying to slow down the game’s leading scorer. At 6-7, Livingston gave up four inches to Durant, who took advantage even though each shot was contested.

Durant went 9-of-10 for 22 points when guarded by Livingston with an array of moves that left Kidd seemingly bewildered.

Two particular plays may have led to Kidd’s priceless reaction.

At the end of the first quarter, Durant caught the ball with his back to the basket just inside the arc and proceeded to back down Livingston with two power dribbles before nailing a 13-foot jumper while falling away and drawing a foul in the process.

Toward the end of the first half, Durant left Kidd bewildered again. Durant had the ball at the top of the key where he used a crossover dribble between the legs, spun into a help defender and ultimately used a step-back dribble beyond the arc to create space and release an off-balance shot. While the ball was in the air, Durant turned and started jogging towards the opposite end of the court as if he knew it was going in. Naturally, the shot rattled home as the crowd gawked in awe.

What’s equally awe-inspiring is how Durant has taken his game to its highest level as the unquestioned go-to scorer on the floor at all times without Westbrook to alleviate the scoring burden.

Shane Battier of the Heat defends Kevin Durant of the ThunderI asked Durant if playing without his star sidekick during the playoffs last season helped prepare him for this past month.

“Last year, I was thinking too much that I needed to make up for the loss of Russ when we all just needed to do it together,” Durant replied. “It was a great learning experience for all of us.”

While a case can be made that Westbrook can slow down Durant more than any defender in the league when he takes too many shots, the fact remains Durant has done the majority of his damage while facing constant double-teams, traps and multiple defensive schemes on a nightly basis. Yet, his scoring output has significantly increased.

Durant had the best month of his career in January averaging 35.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 6.1 assists. What makes his numbers all the more staggering is the efficiency in which he tallied his scoring output from the field (.549), the arc (.436) and the foul line (.890).

“Scoring in this league looks easy, but it’s hard,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “Winning in this league looks easy for good teams, but it’s hard. It’s what makes him special; he makes it look easy.”

With those numbers in mind, I asked Durant if there was any room for improvement in his game to reach his fullest potential.

Fair warning to the rest of the league. Durant thinks he can be even better.

150px-Kevin_Durant_dunk“I think I can grow in every part of my game,” he said. “I never think there’s a ceiling on what I can do as a player. Just knowing the game more, learning game-by-game and learning from my mistakes, I can definitely get better at that. My IQ can grow a lot. Physically, just getting stronger I think is going to help.

“Just growing from the skills that I do have and trying to find new ways to get better, different moves, different shots and different ways to set up my teammates. I’m just trying to learn and also watching other great players in the league and trying to steal a little bit from what they have and try to put it in my game as well.”

Durant has set himself apart from the rest of the league – including LeBron James – in our Sheridan Hoops MVP rankings while leading the league in eight offensive categories.

Durant leads in PER (31.6), points per game (31.2), free throws attempted (9.83), free throws made (8.68), field goals made (10.15), 40-point games (6), win shares (12.26) and FIC (1024.75).

While Durant failed to put a ceiling on himself, there is an implied ceiling – greatest scorer of all-time and one of the great all-around players of his generation when he hangs up his sneakers.

Michael Scotto is a Sheridan Hoops NBA columnist. You can follow him on Twitter.

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  1. Travis Bugg says

    When did KD grow to 7′??? 6’9″, 6’10″ according to some listings. Durante is the clear front runner non the less!

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