COMMENTARY | In April, Kevin Durant was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. There’s a picture of him shooting a jump shot with a quote surrounding him:
“I’ve been second my whole life. I was the second best player in high school. I was the second pick in the draft. I’ve been second in the MVP voting three times. I came in second in the finals. I’m tired of being second. I’m not going to settle for that. I’m done with it.”
That’s what he told SI writer Lee Jenkins.
It’s that extra drive that is one of the reasons Durant will at least win his first MVP trophy this season.
Durant has come in second in the MVP voting three times, including the past two consecutive years. He has lost to James the past two years. James deserved the trophies, and he may make a legitimate case this year as well, but it’s very tough to three-peat.
The last time a player won three consecutive MVP awards was when Larry Bird won his three trophies from 1983-1984 to 1985-1986. He’s one of only three players to win three MVPs in a row, in the same company as Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Not even Michael Jordan, who is considered the greatest player of all-time, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has won the most MVP awards, has won three times in a row.
It just seems like human nature for voters to want to go in a new direction if all other things are equal.
Durant can and will win this award on his own merit though.
With three NBA scoring championships, a career scoring average of 26.6 points per game, and scoring averages of at least 28.0 points per game in the past four seasons, Durant has showed that he is an elite scorer.
Durant will catch people’s attentions with multiple 30-point games, like the 33 he had last year (more than LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony).
He’ll be called on to do even more for the Thunder this season.
Starting point guard and All-Star Russell Westbrook is injured and will miss at least the first four-to-six weeks of the NBA season. Prolific scorer Kevin Martin was not brought back this season. Only one other player on the roster averaged double-digits in scoring last season (Serge Ibaka, 13.2 points per game).
Without Westbrook to provide additional scoring punch, much of the scoring responsibility, especially in crunch time, will come down to Durant.
He’s proven he can accept that responsibility as well.
Even though the Thunder fell short of expectations in the playoffs last year, Durant was first in the playoffs in points per game (30.8). In the nine playoff games the Thunder played without Westbrook, Durant averaged 31.8 points per game.
It won’t just be scoring slack Durant will be expected to make up for though.
According to an article by Darnell Mayberry in The Oklahoman, Thunder head coach Scott Brooks expects Durant to take over some of the playmaking abilities as well.
“We want all of our playmakers to continue to look for guys that need help scoring. We have guys that can do a lot of things offensively, but they need help. And (Durant) has the ability to get shots for Thabo (Sefolosha), get shots for Serge and get shots for all of our bigs,” he said.
Durant averaged a career-high 4.6 assists last season. This preseason he is second on the team in assists per game (4.8), including a 12-assist game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Durant will have the ball and he will be the focal point of the offense, whether he’s scoring or dishing it out.
The Thunder was the top seed in the Western Conference last season and it will be a challenge to remain there. The San Antonio Spurs are always competitive and the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors continued to improve in the offseason.
The Thunder did not make any significant changes this offseason. If Durant can help keep the Thunder in the upper tier of Western Conference teams, especially in Westbrook’s absence, then he should make a good case for the value to his team.
Durant is one of the most entertaining and likable players in the NBA today. He’s established himself as one of the best.
He’ll be hunting for his first NBA Championship this season, and while the jury is out on that, his quest should make help him win his first MVP award.
Phil Shore lives in New Jersey and is the creator and editor of Shore Thing Sports blog. He’s been published in The Boston Globe, Philly.com, FoxSoccer.com, LaxMagazine.com and New England Lacrosse Journal.