Kevin Durant’s MVP Evolution
Although his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates believe he still hasn’t scratched the surface, Kevin Durant is intent on balling out of control and his career-best efficiency has played a massive role in his development.
This is nothing new for Durant, the reigning NBA scoring champion two years running, but it seems as though this year he’s taken his game to another level. Anyone who has watched Durant play for this Thunder team this season knows that the fifth year NBA player has seen his efficiency level on the court go through the roof.
“He is definitely improved and his efficiency is really at a level that I don’t know if you can get much better shooting the ball,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said. “He still has to work on his play-making and it’s something that he challenges himself [with]. Turnovers are a little high, trying to get that down lower but he’s definitely playing MVP basketball. I don’t know if he’s like the clear cut [MVP], that’s not something I think about often but he’s definitely going to be in the conversations for a lot of years and there’s a lot of good players in the league, a lot of players having great years.”
With an inside game, outside game and handles to match; Durant’s talent has done nothing but blossom as his game expands each season. This has culminated with a 2011-2012 campaign in which, while his scoring is down about a half of a point per contest from last season, he’s done a better job of letting the game come to him rather than force things out there on the offensive end.
This has resulted in Durant’s most complete and efficient season yet. The OKC mainstay is shooting over 50 percent from the field for the first time in his career, while averaging career highs in rebounds (8.4), assists (3.4) and blocks (1.4).
Over the past five games, Durant has been especially dominant – averaging a double-double by putting up over 29 points per and grabbing just over 10 rebounds per contest.
Most importantly, OKC is 4-1 during that span.
“It’s just efficiency,” Thunder center Kendrick Perkins told HOOPSWORLD. “One thing he told me he wanted to be better at, he said he wanted to take less shots but have a better percentage. He said he wanted to get his rebounds up and his assists up and he’s done that. The thing about Kevin is that he’s just trying to take his game to another level, he’s proven to the world that he can get a bucket on anybody at any given time.
“What he’s trying to do is take less shots, still average a great amount of points but make everybody better,” Perkins continued. “He’s making passes that he would not have been making a year ago or two years ago. One thing about him: he’s great, and you don’t find too many superstars to his nature that are coach-able and a teammate can talk to — one of the most humble guys — and it’s a good thing.”
Just as Perkins eluded to, what’s even more important than Durant’s impressive stat sheet every game is the way this Thunder team has exploded out of the gate to start this season. At 20-5 Oklahoma City has the best record in the NBA and is three-and-a-half games ahead of the next closest contender in the rugged Western Conference.
Leading the way is Durant, whose MVP-level game has been the driving force that’s taken this team to the next level.
Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook believes there shouldn’t be any question that Durant is at least on the short list of legitimate MVP candidates early on this season.
“Definitely,” Westbrook told HOOPSWORLD recently. “I mean we have the best record in the league. There shouldn’t be no reason why he’s not.”
The scariest thing about Durant is that he’s still just 23-years old and has plenty of room to improve an already robust skill set. As just about the most humble player you’ll meet in the NBA, Durant started off his answer to my question about his MVP-status by providing a laundry list of things he continues to work on.
“Luckily I’m just making some shots,” Durant told HOOPSWORLD with a smirk. “I’ve been working hard and just trying to be prepared every single night and just taking better shots. Last year I might take some questionable shots – I still might take some questionable shots – but I’m just trying to be efficient in the shots I take. Not just get them up, not be a volume shooter. I’ve been growing as far as watching film and knowing what I need to do to take better shots and try to cut down on my threes a little bit too — especially when I’m not making them — while also trying to get my teammates involved.
“I think if I pass up on a few shots and get a better shot for my teammates, it comes right back around to me and I might get a layup here or a layup here so that’s going to get me going a little bit, get to the free throw line as well,” Durant explained. “So I’m just trying to find ways for me to be more and more efficient.”
What are left on the learning curve for Durant are things that generally come with age for an NBA player of his pedigree. Two priorities will be to cut down on some of the turnovers that are plaguing both he and this Thunder team as a whole, while also continuing to pack pounds onto his slender frame.
The good news for Thunder fans is that with the head he has on his shoulders (and with plenty of time to mature even further on the court) Durant is going to be about as close to unstoppable as it gets in this league for years to come.
Last year’s Western Conference Finals defeat to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks left a bitter taste for both Durant and this Thunder team as a whole. That’s fueled the young Thunder and, so far this season, has resulted in OKC being the best team in the NBA.
With Durant firing on all cylinders, this is going to be a scary team come playoff time.
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