41, 32, 36, 46, 30, 54, 36, 37, 33, 30, 48, 21, 48, 24.
No, these are not lottery numbers you should play. This is Kevin Durant’s scoring line in the month of January. Looking at these numbers is astounding. Durant has single-handedly carried the Oklahoma City Thunder through the absence of Russell Westbrook by way of a career year and a clear MVP case.
Consider this: In January, Durant is averaging an incredible 36.5 points per game, and it isn’t just scoring that he is providing. Unlike some volume scorers, Durant has been a huge facilitator while still seemingly scoring at will. He is averaging 6.2 assists per game in this stretch as well, including a 10 assist night during his triple-double effort against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Durant has brought everything the team needs to the board, and has raised his game to superhuman levels. Since his incredible run began, even before Christmas, Durant has raised his season averages to an NBA-leading 31.1 points, along with 5.2 assists and 7.9 rebounds.
Granted, many Thunder players have stepped up their games in Westbrook’s absence as well. Serge Ibaka has hit a stride, averaging almost 16 points per game this month to push his season average to 14.7, a career high. Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb have made huge steps in filling some of the scoring void, and show flashes of stardom.
But the big man has to be Durant. He is without a doubt the best player in the NBA right now. Even LeBron James has taken notice, with a Durant tracking app on his phone. Durant, who averages 27 points per game in his career, has scored less than that only 12 times this season.
It isn’t only his volume scoring, but his efficiency. Durant is shooting .535% from the field, raising his season average to .508%, including .410% from beyond the three point arc. He has now scored at least 30 points in each of his last 11 games, making him only the 5th player in the last 30 years to accomplish this feat. He is joined in this club by Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Shaquille O’Neal, and Michael Jordan. Not bad company. Not bad at all.
Perhaps the best way to measure just how incredible Durant has been in this streak and this season overall is to look at his Player Efficiency Rating (PER). This is John Hollinger’s statistic that boils down the effectiveness of a player to one single number based on his per-minute performance. Essentially, it takes into account every play a player makes during the game, including degree of shot difficulty and defensive plays. Hollinger has the PER set up so that the average is always 15.00 as a basis of comparison. A score of 20.00 is considered a borderline All-Star. A score of 25.00 is considered an MVP candidate. A score of 30.00 is considered a runaway MVP candidate.
Only 18 times has a player recorded a PER above 30.00, none above 31.84. Kevin Durant, as of Monday night, has a PER of 32.27. The next closest player is Kevin Love, with a 29.79. The 28.65 of LeBron James is the third PER in the league.
32.27. That is on pace for the greatest statistical season in NBA history. Durant should be the clear runaway favorite for MVP this season, despite the strong cases the James and the Portland Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge can make for the award. Is there really any doubt at how lucky we are to witness this incredible season? To top it all off, Durant hit a jumper over a double team with seconds remaining to lift the Thunder to a two point win over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night.
But the weird thing is that it isn’t that surprising. We’ve reached a scary good point where we just expect Durant to hit game winners every time out. We are so spoiled that it’s ridiculous.
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