As things stand, Kevin Durant would be an unlikely winner of the NBA‘s MVP award. But to count him out entirely would be to ignore the incredible season he’s been having.
Don’t Forget to Consider Kevin Durant for MVP
Last night’s victory over the Sacramento Kings was the perfect example of Durant’s all-around game. For years, the Golden State Warriors forward has been rightly regarded as the league’s best pure scorer, but he is so much more than that. Against the Kings, he loaded the stat sheet with 28 points, seven rebounds, six assists, four blocks and a steal. His often overlooked defensive play included two blocks against the monstrous DeMarcus Cousins – and he only attempted 15 field goals for his points.
Public Enemy Number One
Yet his controversial summer move to the Warriors still casts a shadow on his performance this season. He is the league’s villain. Durant left the 55-win Oklahoma City Thunder, to form a super-super-team that had just won 73 games. The quality of his teammates will count against his MVP bid, as will the manner of his departure to the West Coast.
But it’s precisely because of his talented support that Durant has had the difficult task of revamping his game. He’s been successful. He has served mostly as power forward in the Warriors’ small lineups this season, so he’s had to become more of a force inside. Durant has career highs in blocks, rebounds and field-goal percentage. Being shoehorned into a star-studded lineup was not as straightforward as it seemed, but he has flourished.
A Different Role
The impressive stats don’t stop there either. He’s had the fewest turnovers per-game in his career, and he’s only seen a minor dip in scoring – despite a major dip in usage. Being able to utilise Durant as primarily an inside player has been a feature of the Warriors’ historically good offense. The team has an embarrassment of three-point shooting riches, so there is less onus on Durant to take outside shots. Only 28.8 percent of his Golden State shots have been three-pointers – down from 34.8 percent last season.
And whilst he has become a far more effective rim protector, Durant has also maintained his steal rate. In fact, he is one of only three players to average a steal and 1.5 blocks per-game. His move to the Warriors has showcased his excellent and versatile defensive ability. That versatility is key for the Warriors’ switch-heavy defense, especially in small lineups.
Wins Matter For MVP Voting
The perceived ease of playing in Golden State will count against Durant in the MVP voting, but the opposite form of voter politics will work in his favour. It’s been well-documented that the winner of the award almost always comes from a first or second seed. Other candidates Russell Westbrook and James Harden have challenged this tradition with a barrage of triple-doubles, but it remains difficult to battle history. Durant’s season as the best player on a team with a 32-6 start will be tough to ignore. Like it or not, wins matter to MVP voters.
Despite Kevin Durant’s highly successful season, he may not even make the top-three in MVP voting, as the league has seen an unprecedented level of heroic individual displays this season. In such a wild season it would be easy to overlook Durant, but don’t – he’s still a dominant force in the NBA.
GUANGZHOU, CHINA – JULY 11: American professional basketball NBA player Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors attends a commercial event for Nike at Tianhe Sports Center on July 11, 2016 in Guangzhou, China. (Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images)