If ESPN.com’s Summer Forecast is right, it’ll be a fourth second place MVP for Kevin Durant this season. And remember, he’s tired of being second.
We all know the situation. LeBron is a four-time MVP, a two-time champion and the unofficial ruler of the NBA. He has the Best Player on the Planet written on his business card and with all of that, overcoming him in anything, much less MVP, is quite the challenge. If you’re going to win MVP in the NBA, you’ve got to outperform LeBron James, which is akin to saying you need to be better looking than Ryan Gosling. Good luck, gents.
Look at the three seasons KD finished runner-up:
2009-10 — 30.1 points, 47.6 FG%, 36.5 3P%, 90.0 FT%, 7.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 16.1 Win Shares
2011-12 — 28.0 points, 49.6 FG%, 38.7 3P%, 86.0 FT%, 8.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 12.2 Win Shares
2012-13 — 28.1 points, 51.0 FG%, 41.6 3P%, 90.5 FT%, 7.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 18.9 Win Shares
Those are absurd numbers.
Problem is, look at LeBron’s in those same seasons:
2009-10 — 29.7 points, 50.3 FG%, 33.3 3P%, 76.7 FT%, 7.3 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 18.5 Win Shares
2011-12 — 27.1 points, 53.1 FG%, 36.2 3P%, 77.1 FT%, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 14.5 Win Shares
2012-13 — 26.8 points, 56.5 FG%, 40.6 3P%, 75.3 FT%, 8.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 19.3 Win Shares
The Thunder won 50 games in 2009-10, LeBron’s Cavs won 61. The Thunder won 47 (lockout) in 2011-12, the Heat won 46. The Thunder won 60 last season, the Heat won 66. It’s not KD’s fault. It’s just that LeBron has basically one-upped him.
And the thing that Durant has had in his back pocket — narrative — hasn’t really helped him much. I thought certainly the narrative would build to a boiling point last season with the Thunder losing James Harden and yet still taking a step forward with a better season, largely because Durant elevated his game. He upped his assists, went 50-40-90 and the Thunder had their best regular season yet.
Except that got trumped but Miami’s 27-game streak and LeBron’s historic run of 30-point, 50-percent shooting games.
Born in another era and KD has three MVPs, and probably an NBA title. Alas.
So what will it take for KD to finally break through with the MVP? As Handsome Tom Haberstroh notes in the THTV above, narrative is huge. And if the Heat struggle a bit in the regular season, taking a step back to mind health and well-being for the postseason over regular season accomplishments, maybe they win only 55 games or so, and maybe they aren’t quite as dominant. (Then again, the fear is if Dwyane Wade sits 30 games, it just means it opens the door for LeBron to completely take over and keep the Heat rolling despite his buddy’s absence, and therefore restore more narrative than ever. I’m fully expecting this to happen.)
And with the Thunder again losing their third-leading scorer and trying to bounce back from Russell Westbrook’s injury, a strong regular season with big numbers from KD could vault him into the conversation. As we all know with MVP, it’s about that buzz. It’s about generating the conversation and getting as many people as possible on SportsCenter to name drop you in the same sentence with MVP.
Another necessary thing: Beat LeBron. Preferably, twice. The Thunder have lost six consecutive to the Heat and while those games have had little to do with KD (he’s averaged something like 33 points on 50 percent shooting in those), but the perception is that Durant can’t beat LeBron.
There’s also this rather archaic thinking that KD doesn’t defend. Which isn’t accurate. Durant’s frame doesn’t give him the look of an elite defender, but crunch the numbers any way you want them — KD is a good defensive player. (For example: Per Synergy, KD allowed 0.8 points per play last season, which ranked 61st in the league. LeBron allowed 0.84, which ranked 119th. In isolation, Durant allowed 0.73 points per play [78th] to LeBron’s 0.82 [168th]. Synergy isn’t the end-all by any stretch, but it’s at least an indication that the stereotype that KD doesn’t defend is basically completely untrue.)
Finally, consider this: When KD finished runner-up to LeBron for the first time, he was 21 years old (21 years old!). LeBron was 25. Last season, KD finished runner-up as a 24-year-old (LeBron was 28). Durant turns 25 at the end of September, which means that this actually might be the beginning of his prime. All that stuff he accomplished prior to now was just an example of how spectacular of a player he is, and is going to be. Eventually there will be a baton passing. Durant’s time will come. It’s just a matter of when, not if.