Oklahoma City Thunders star Kevin Durant’s MVP season continued Sunday as he passed Chicago Bulls icon Michael Jordan with his 41st straight game scoring 25 or more points and he should now be a lock for the award. He posted 38 points in a 122-115 road loss to the Phoenix Suns. The streak puts Durant at the top of the list since the three-point shot was added in the 1979-80 season. Prior to then, Oscar Robertson went for 25 points or better for 46 consecutive games during the 1963-64 season and Wilt Chamberlain tops the list with at least 25 points in all 80 games of the 1961-62 season.
Durant’s 32.1 ppg leads the NBA by a significant margin. Carmelo Anthony is second at 27.5 ppg, LeBron James is third with 26.8 ppg, and Kevin Love and James Hardin round out the league’s top five scorers with 26.0 and 25.4 ppg, respectively. He is the only player that can dethrone James—who has won the last two—for this season’s MVP. James is having a good season per usual, keeping the Heat atop the championship conversation, but Durant has had to keep his team afloat without its other superstar, Russell Westbrook. Westbrook only recently returned to the team after missing 44 games with an injury and he has absolutely carried the team during that stretch.
If what Durant has accomplished this season with just six games remaining is not the very definition of a team’s most valuable player, the award is nonsensical and should cease to exist.In addition to his current streak, Durant scored 30 points or more in 12 consecutive games and has had Oklahoma City at or near the top of the Northwest standings for the entire season. The Thunder currently own the NBA’s second best record and sit 4.5 games behind the San Antonio Spurs mark of 60-17. And if efficiency holds any weight, Durant is one of the league’s best. He’s shooting 50.7 from inside the arc and 40.4 percent from beyond it, converting 87 percent from the free throw line, and racking up an assist on 25 percent of his possessions.
Durant’s record-setting season is impressive for more than just the obvious reasons. The game has slowed down overall since Jordan played. In the 1986-87 season, for instance, teams averaged 100.8 possessions per game. The average now has slowed to 93.9, meaning Durant has had about five fewer possessions per game in which to score. Players are bigger and more athletic these days as well, which, in concert with the zone defense, only means getting to the hoop in today’s NBA has become increasingly difficult.
Wilt Chamberlin, Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan, it could be argued, are all better players than Durant. What cannot be argued is that scoring 25 plus points a night for such a long stretch is truly something to marvel. Everyone has an off night. Mike Tyson did against Buster Douglas, the New England Patriots did in the 2008 Super Bowl, and surely Michael Jordan did at some point in his illustrious career. But for forty-one games and counting, Durant has yet to have one.
Commentary by Rick Sarlat