Kevin Durant Is Having the Best Season of His Career
This year, everyone and their brother is talking about Russell Westbrook -- as they should be.
With 35 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists in the Oklahoma City Thunder's 126-115 overtime win over the Washington Wizards, Westbrook tallied his fourth straight triple-double while also maintaining his triple-double averages for the year. The last and only other player to average a triple-double going into the month of December was Oscar Robertson back in 1961.
There's no way to diminish just how impressive that is. But, it seems like, in this world of fantasy sports, the stat line -- as well as the historical context that comes with it -- is diminishing the accomplishments of his former teammate, Kevin Durant.
Everyone knows Durant. He's the bad guy. He left Oklahoma City for greener pastures in Oakland. As a matter of fact, Westbrook's playing exactly the way he is because of Durant's departure and how that exit went down. Durant mad him angry.
The masses expected, predicted and have seen the effect of the move on one Brodie. However, they've also wondered how this would impact the Warriors, Stephen Curry and Durant's workload. A lot of people expected everyone involved to suffer, including Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. In spite of expectations, it hasn't affected Durant in the way most anticipated.
On a per-game basis, Durant's points per game are down just over a point from a year ago. If you think that's significant, KD is playing 1.4 less minutes per contest. In doing so, you'll find that his 28.3 points per 36 minutes are identical to last season's average.
How he's doing it?
Scoring As Usual
In separating his production inside and outside the three-point arc, it turns out that even though KD's hitting a career-high 44.2% from deep, he's been even better from two-point range. On 12.2 two-point attempts per contest, Durant's converting 7.6, leading to 55.9% of his scoring output.
If you're a visual person, this should help to explain Durant's dominance inside and his efficiency outside.
Knowing the Warriors lead everyone with 31.1 assists per game, it certainly shouldn't turn your world upside down to learn that 56.6% of his two-point makes are assisted. And, overall, 62.1% of Durant's total field goals are assisted. Opposing defenses have to flock to Curry, Thompson, and even Green, of which Durant is a big-time beneficiary.
No offense to Westbrook and his passing skills, but Durant and Curry clearly have a more efficient connection than the Thunder buddies did a year ago, when Durant hit 51.3% from the field and 39.4% from three-point range.
The place where Durant has reaped the most benefits from the level of talent around him has been in transition. His 1.47 points per possession are best among all players with at least two transition possessions per game. In fact, KD averages 4.2 such possessions for a total of 6.2 transition points per night on an effective field goal percentage of 77.9%.
Try stopping that.
It's hard to do when Durant's proven the ability to do it all.
By do it all, I mean that despite a 3% reduction in usage, Durant's 4.7 assists per game are the third-highest of his 10-year career. Again, it definitely helps to be surrounded by arguably two of the best shooters in NBA history.
Check out how Thompson and Curry have performed off a Durant pass so far this season.
Durant's passing skills aren't on par with LeBron James, but we know they're solid and the combination of his threat to hit from anywhere and the ability of others to do so as well makes them that much better.
Unlike his assist numbers, his rebounding numbers have improved. Durant's 0.8 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes are a career-high while his 8.8 total boards per-36 are a career-high by a decent margin. His 13.3% rebound percentage is also a personal best.
You could attribute Durant's jump in numbers to the system, but it seems like he's just more hungry to prove himself in areas that matter. That includes the defensive end, where the 10-year-veteran is posting career-bests with 1.6 steals and 1.7 blocks. By turning it up defensively, Durant is currently tied for a career-low 101 defensive rating as he's earned a defensive box plus-minus of 2.0 -- 0.6 greater than his previous best.
In the company of all the career-highs and personal bests, the only plausible conclusion is Durant's playing at his best.
But, is he...
Better Than Russ?
You probably won't like this, but the answer is yes. In a different way, he has a more impressive all-around game. For what KD lacks in volume (he attempts 7.4 less shots per game and has a usage 13.4% lower than Russ), he gains in efficiency.
The advanced metrics support that.
|Advanced Stats||nERD||Player Efficiency Rating||Win Shares||Win Shares per 48|
Durant is superior in every category. As a matter of fact, his nERD -- our in-house player ranking that measures a player's overall contribution, by efficiency -- ranks first among all players. That would be why he sits atop our most recent MVP Watch.
In addition, he rates second in the league in PER, first in win shares and first in win shares per 48 minutes. He's not only outplaying Westbrook -- Kevin Durant is outplaying the rest of the league.