Kevin Durant says it ad nauseum. He says it so much that you want to roll your eyes every time the words tumble out.
“I’m just trying to get better every single day.”
It sounds like lip service, like something he’s just saying because it sounds good and makes sense. He’s not the only guy that uses some variation of that phrase often either.
But Durant is one of the few that actively lives it. He talks the talk, and walks the walk. The proof is in the production — from a wiry rookie volume shooter, to a pure scorer, to the superhuman efficient basketball terminator he is now. Year by year by year by year — he just gets better.
(Relevant note: He’s still just 24 years old. This is the part where you crap your pants, other 29 teams.)
What I just wrote is nothing new to anyone, but the fantastic Kirk Goldsberry summarized it in a terrific piece for Grantland today:
Only one other person in NBA history has combined the volume and efficiency that we’re seeing from Durant this season: Larry Bird in his prime (at ages 29 and 30). Durant, unsurprisingly, is a huge fan of Bird’s. “I like his efficiency and how he played within the pace of the game,” Durant said. “How fierce he was. How he played with his teammates. His edge. How competitive he was.”
Sounds familiar. Except Durant is only 24. When Bird was 24 he averaged 21 points per game while shooting 48 percent from the field and just 27 percent from 3. Although the league was admittedly very different back then, it’s not as though we expect players to peak at age 24. If this isn’t it, what will Kevin Durant’s prime look like? I asked Zormelo what Durant could possibly improve on going forward. “Every single thing,” he said. I pressed and asked if he could make 50 percent of his 3-point field goals: “For sure. At 24 he’s already one of the smartest players in the league. People don’t understand how smart he is. He’s the most efficient player in the world with the ball in his hands. In terms of points per possession, he’s the most efficient player in the league over the last two years.”
Offensively, Kevin Durant has become a once-in-a-generation, pick-your-poison kind of foe. The real growth areas for him are on the defensive end of the court, passing the ball, and on the boards. His coaches will tell you that his defense is improving every month, and if his January numbers offer any clues, the passing and rebounding numbers are looking up, too. If it weren’t for LeBron James, Kevin Durant would clearly be the best player in the league. The way things are going, it may not be long before he becomes just that.
A lot has been made of Durant’s quest for 50-40-90, but it’s happening because of a steady, natural progression in his game. Goldsberry also added a few of his trademark graphics to the piece. Here’s one that’s just stunning:
What impresses me so much about Durant’s evolution is that he’s clearly focused very much on not settling. Which I’m sure has been a major challenge for him. When you consider his God-given physical gifts — 6-foot-11 with a pure touch from 30 feet — it would be extremely easy for him to just get by on pull-up jumpers over defenders. Because KD can shoot over pretty much anyone, at anytime, from pretty much anywhere.
But he’s clearly focused on getting to places on the floor where he can be most effective. Inside 15 feet he’s virtually automatic with a half chance of a look. This season from 10-15 feet, Durant is shooting 64.5 percent. His previous best from that distance before this year was 47.1 percent. He’s improved as a post-up player, which has come from relentless work on both his game, with film, and in the weight room. He doesn’t get bullied anyone. He’s still thin, but no pushover.
Some have asked me if we’re possibly finally getting a glimpse of Durant’s ceiling as a scorer. It doesn’t get much better than this — almost 30 a game on 18.3 shots a game with 50-40-90 percentages — but knowing KD, I think it will get better. Because he’s never satisfied with his own game. Never content. Never complacent. He’s going to continue to grow, evolve and develop.
This is year six for Durant. What will he look like when he actually hits his prime? Year eight? Year 10?
Boy, we have it good watching this guy.