Kevin Durant vs. the Greats

Quiet as it’s been kept, Kevin Durant is having a career year (including the playoffs) in this most controversial season. He is better than he has ever been. In the regular season, his performance was under the radar because of what his former teammate Russell Westbrook did without him, and what his former teammate James Harden was doing in his rebirth.

Kevin Durant is the same and yet he is not. He is not. He has taken his brilliance and dropped it onto a championship contending team without much interruption or chaos.

Consider: In the regular season, Kevin Durant played less minutes, took less shots but made a career high 53.7% of his jumpers. Only three players were in the top-15 in scoring and field goal percentage: LeBron James, Karl-Anthony Towns, and KD. He was a 37.5% scorer on threes; Durant’s first year he couldn’t crack 30% from three. He rebounded the ball at a career high rate and recorded the second most assists of his career. He had more blocks than he ever has and the fewest amount of turnovers. His offensive rating was better than when he won the MVP (2014) and his defensive rating was tied for his second best.

This would have been a MVP year for Durant if not for Westbrook and Harden. Honestly, Durant should get some kind of award for having to listen to all the haters tear apart a decision he was entitled to make so he could have his best chance at a ring. Not to revisit the subject one more time but Durant would have had a chance at a title if he stayed in OKC but in Oakland he has the best chance of a title other than signing with the Cavs. And his offensive talent is a seamless fit with the Warriors identity.

But how does year ten of Durant stack up against other iconic scorers?

Michael Jordan in year ten only played 17 games, having just returned from baseball, so let’s look at year 11.

In 1995-96 Jordan played all 82. Like Durant, Jordan’s team was loaded with Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. He had offense and defensive help. Jordan shot 49.5%, down from his career numbers of 50%+. He made 42.7% of his threes which was a career high and the only year he scratched the 40% club. He tied a career high in offensive rebounding and had the third best rebounding numbers he ever posted. His assists and steals were average for Jordan, not at the elite level he was known for. He averaged 30.4 points- and this boggles the mind- that is just the 6th highest point total of his career. His offensive rating was an ungodly 124 and his defensive rating is the same as Durant’s this year. Jordan still had a 33% usage rate, which eclipses what Durant is doing on a team with so many offensive weapons. Michael Jordan won the MVP that year and a NBA title.

We know Durant won’t win the MVP though he is having a MVP season. Winning the title is undetermined but he is doing his best to get that first one. He’ll probably average 30 in the Finals.

The other great scorer of the past two decades, Kobe Bryant, in year 10 (2005-06) played 80 games. His 45% on makes was a shade off his career high of 46.9% when he won his third title at the age of 23. He had a decent three ball at 34.7%, his third highest mark. He did have a career high in free throw shooting and he went to the line almost nine times a game. He had a career high as well in steals on route to 35.4 points per game, the most points in his career. But unlike Durant and Jordan, he didn’t have much on his team besides Lamar Odom. Smush Parker was the point guard. Kwame Brown was the center. His defensive rating was worse than Durant and Jordan, 105, and his offensive rating was worse too. His usage rate was a staggering 38.7% and he wasn’t in the playoffs long, one and done.

In every category, Durant is having a better year in his 10th season than Kobe but then again Durant has much more talent to work with than Bryant. Durant is playing with three  All-Stars. Bryant had zero All-Stars to feed the ball to.

It is important to note that after Bryant’s 10th year, he won two titles and after Jordan’s eleventh year, he won two titles. So it is clear that Kevin Durant is still in the part of his career where winning titles is probable, if not possible.

Durant’s 10th year is better than Jordan and Bryant in multiple categories: field goal percentage, rebounding, blocks. Will he match Michael Jordan and win a title?

In July, it would have been a ridiculous thing to say that Kevin Durant was going to be a better individual player. But he is. He is the best player on the Warriors. He will be the reason they win the title, if it happens. He did the right thing, regardless of if people like it or not. Oklahoma City was holding him back. He has arrived now and this is a Kevin Durant we haven’t seen before.