The NBA is experiencing a golden age of eye-popping individual performances.
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook earned his league-leading 24th triple-double of the season on Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers. James Harden of the Houston Rockets earned his second 50-point triple-double on Friday night against the Philadelphia 76ers, making him the only player in NBA history to have two in a season. And Steph Curry fueled the Golden State Warriors win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night with 43 points in under 29 minutes, becoming just the third player this season to total 40 or more points while playing fewer than 30 minutes.
As a result, Kevin Durant is almost an afterthought in this year’s race for most valuable player despite having one of the most efficient seasons in NBA history.
In addition to averaging 26.3 points and 4.7 assists while finishing a career-low 28 percent of his team’s possessions, Durant is establishing a new career high in true shooting percentage (65.8 percent). Curry (2015-16, an MVP season) is the only other players in NBA history to meet or exceed those marks while playing at least 30 minutes per night.
Since joining the Warriors, Durant has become one of the most complete scorers in the NBA. He is in the top 20 percent of the league coming off screens (1.19 points per possession), spotting up opponents (1.29), in isolation (1.05), cutting to the basket (1.47) and handling the ball on the pick-and-roll (1.0). But his biggest improvements might be in transition, where Durant is scoring almost two-thirds of the time with an effective field goal percentage of 69.6 percent (up from 57.4 percent in 2015-16). Only LeBron James has been a more efficient scorer on the break this season (minimum 200 possessions).
Durant is contributing on the defensive side of the ball, too. He’s holding opponents to 48.8 percent shooting around the basket and grabs 1.9 contested rebounds per game, a slight improvement over last season (1.6), with a career-high 1.7 blocks per game. It’s also difficult to beat Durant one on one: Players are 16 for 49 against him with a turnover once every nine tries.
It’s this ability to contribute on defense that puts Durant ahead of Westbrook, Harden, Curry and James in ESPN’s Real Plus Minus metric, which estimates a player’s on-court impact, measured in net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions, after adjusting for teammates and opponents. And Durant’s overall performance even has him close behind Harden in Basketball Reference’s NBA MVP Award Tracker, which ranks candidates based on a model built using previous voting results.
There is still half a season to be played and with Westbrook and Harden continuing to pile up triple-doubles, it could drown out all challengers. But if Durant continues to be the most efficient scorer on the top team in the league, his MVP candidacy is going to be tough to ignore.