Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony and Terrence Ross and What We Talk About When We Talk About Scoring Points
USA Today Sports
Entering Friday night’s action, the top four scoring performances this NBA season all belonged to one man – Kevin Durant. He owned all four of them, and all four of them had been achieved in the previous 20 days. He scored 48 on Minnesota on the 4th. Three days later, he poured in another 48 on Utah. He followed that up with 54, a career high, against Golden State on the 17th, and then four days after that put up 46 against Portland.
And then on Friday, Carmelo happened.
And then on Saturday, Terrence Ross happened.
Since Russell Westbrook went missing from the Oklahoma City lineup, Kevin Durant has averaged over 36 points per game, and he’s done it with a true shooting percentage of 0.665, an impossibly spectacular combination of volume and efficiency. When Carmelo Anthony went on a scoring binge last April, he averaged 36.9 points, but his true shooting percentage was just .624, and his stretch lasted just eight games. Durant’s is now 16 (and counting).
Kobe averaged 43.5 points over a month’s worth of games (14 games from December 28, 2005 to January 31, 2006), including his 81-point explosion, but he didn’t come anywhere close to matching Durant’s efficiency, posting a true shooting percentage of just .601.
Does anyone care? Apparently not. On Friday night, Carmelo scored 62 points, the most of any player this season, and the most of any player not named “Kobe Bryant” since The Lion King was still playing in theaters and “Bump n’ Grind” was No. 1 on the Billboard charts. Less than 24 hours later, Terrence Ross became the first player in NBA history to score over 50 points despite entering the game with a scoring average below 10.
And Durant? All he did was light up the Sixers for a 32-14-10, on over 70 percent shooting (12-for-17) from the floor. Yawn.
So what is it about scoring explosions that so capture our attention?
It clearly isn’t just a “flavor of the week” thing, considering Durant’s stretch of inhuman play is ongoing, and his triple-double was on the same night as Ross’ explosion, the night AFTER Carmelo’s. And it’s not necessarily a “rarity” thing either, considering a 16-game stretch of averaging 36 points per game at a level of efficiency that would have led the league every year from 1998 to 2010, 49 different seasons altogether, and would be a top-20 single-season mark of all time (keep in mind, WHILE AVERAGING 36 POINTS PER GAME) is, well, not very common.
No, there is something exceptional about big scoring nights that draws our eyes. Seemingly, even more so when the scorer in question is either (a) a super-duper star or (b) a relative nobody completely out of left field.
To some extent, the single-game-sample influences it. A player exploding in one game will always have more resonance than an already-elite scorer going through a stretch where he scores 15 percent more points than he normally does. One barrage stands out in our minds more than a player who was averaging 30 points per game suddenly averaging 36, even if the phenomenon is just as unusual and special.
And a great scoring game will always be at the forefront over a great all-around game. Terrence Ross scored 51 points on Saturday, Kevin Durant had a 32-14-10. Both had similar Game Scores (37.7 for Ross, 34.6 for Durant), but Ross just isn’t a player you’d ever think to score 50.
At the end of the day, it’s a question of small-picture versus big picture. Durant was the talk of the town when he was posting the insane single-game scoring numbers earlier in January, and now Carmelo and Ross are at the forefront. The “HOLY SHIT KEVIN DURANT” storyline has been pushed aside, and it shouldn’t have been. Kevin Durant’s month of January should be The No. 1 Story being talked about right now, but it’s not. Forget the scoring spree, Durant has evolved into a complete offensive player, unlike anything we’ve seen from him in his entire career. He’s averaging 5.2 assists per game, with an Assist rate of 25.0 percent, both career highs. Over the last month, with Westbrook out, it’s been 5.9 assists per game. Among forwards, those are numbers only seen by guys named LeBron, Bird, Pippen, and Barry.
And those assists are coming in ways they’ve never come before. Durant has always been a willing passer, but never one that could easily create scoring for others with his passing. He’s always been able to make easy passes to open teammates, but over the last month he’s displayed a level of creativity that, among active forwards, is only matched by LeBron. It’s the biggest reason why Oklahoma City is 12-5 even without Westbrook over the last month, and perhaps most incredibly, why Kevin Durant isn’t just “in the conversation,” but leading the charge in the MVP race.
Entering this season, I figured the only way LeBron wouldn’t win the MVP is if he had a season that wasn’t quite up to his own ludicrously high standards and he succumbed to voter fatigue. The thought that LeBron would have a LeBron-type season but would lose the MVP because someone else TOPPED it seemed about as reasonable as a RoboCop musical starring William Shatner in the title role. But that’s exactly what’s happened.
Durant has a Player Efficiency Rating of 30.9, higher than LeBron’s MVP year in 2012 (30.7), and the eighth-best single-season mark in history, the highest of any player not named “James” or “Jordan.” LeBron has led the league in PER in each of the last six seasons, in Win Shares and Win Shares per 48 minutes in each of the last five. This year he stands second to Durant in all three categories.
Durant’s single-game exploits have already faded away, but his extended stretch of greatness remains the highest level we’ve seen any player reach this season, and the highest level we’ve seen any player save for LeBron reach in the last handful of years. Even if not many people are talking about it, it’s still happening. Perception can’t re-write reality.
And reality says Kevin Durant has been the best player in the league this season. Maybe everyone else should say the same thing.