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The Extra Pass: Kevin Durant’s shot at history

Jan 16, 2013, 9:45 AM EDT

Oklahoma City Thunder v San Antonio Spurs - Game One

The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we look at Kevin Durant‘s chance to make NBA history.

For the last three seasons, Kevin Durant has led the NBA in scoring. That’s no easy task, but doing it again this year is going to be quite the challenge.

Kobe Bryant is the current points per game leader, and if the Lakers do end up out of the playoff hunt, we know exactly what he’ll be gunning for. Out in New York, Carmelo Anthony is having his best year ever and is scoring from all over the court. James Harden lurks as a darkhorse who will get all the shots he can handle, and LeBron James is always a threat to win it — if he feels like it. Point is, the competition for the scoring title this year will be stiff.

Of course, there’s history on the side of the challengers as well. Five players in NBA history have led the league in scoring three straight seasons, but only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain have done it four years in a row.

But if Durant can beat out the competition and secure the scoring title, he’ll have a chance to do something no one in NBA history has ever done — not Jordan, not Wilt — no one.

The 180 Shooter

A “180 shooter” is a player whose field goal percentage (at least 50%), 3-point percentage (at least 40%) and free throw percentage (at least 90%) add up to 180 or greater. It’s a term coined by the late, great Rick Majerus, who was full of little nuggets of basketball wisdom.

Since the 3-point line was introduced in the 1979-80 season, the NBA has had seven different players join the 180 club. It’s almost basketball’s equivalent to baseball’s Triple Crown, albeit more common.

Only the best of the best of the best shooters gain this distinction. Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, Mark Price, Steve Nash, Steve Kerr and Jose Calderon have all had 50-40-90 years that placed them in the 180 club.

Durant’s résumé

Durant is obviously a great shooter, but he hasn’t so much as sniffed the 180 club in his career. Despite that beautiful jumper, he has never shot over 50 percent from the field, and he’s only eclipsed 40 percent 3-point shooting and 90 percent free throw shooting once, and in different seasons at that. If you were to guess which players were most likely to join the club going into this year, Stephen Curry, Steve Nash or Jose Calderon would have been much better choices given their past performances.

With all that said, it’s pretty easy to forget that Durant is only 24-years-old. He’s still perfecting his shot and finding ways to free himself up for better looks, which is terrifying for the rest of the league, but great for his numbers.

Where Durant stands today

Going into Wednesday night’s games, Durant is shooting 52 percent from the field, 40 percent from the 3-point line, and 90 percent from the foul line. If the season ended today, Durant would become the eighth player in NBA history to post percentages of 50-40-90.

What does that mean in the grand scheme of things? Excluding Calderon, the last two members to join the club (Nowitzki and Nash) have won the league MVP. Obviously there are other factors at play, but it doesn’t hurt to solidify yourself as the league’s best shooter when it’s time to tally the votes.

But here’s where Durant can really separate himself from his current peers and past shooting legends. If Durant can manage to win the scoring title and keep these percentages intact, he’ll be the only 180 shooter in NBA history to lead the league in scoring.

All by himself

There are a few reasons why Durant would be the only player to have ever done this. The first is obvious enough: bigger point totals almost always come at the cost of efficiency.

The second reason why this hasn’t happened? Michael Jeffrey Jordan. In the 1987-88 season, Larry Bird averaged a whopping 29.9 points per game, but that was only good for third on the scoring list. Dominique Wilkins, maybe the most underrated player ever, averaged 30.7 points a game that year for the Hawks. But MJ? He averaged a ridiculous 35 points per game. Think about how crazy that is. We make a big deal when a player drops 40, but Jordan nearly averaged that.

That’s part of what makes Durant’s potential accomplishment so impressive. There aren’t many individual feats MJ left unclaimed, but this is one of them. And in what is already shaping up as one of the league’s hottest MVP races of recent memory, with Durant, James, Chris Paul, Anthony, and Tim Duncan all in contention, doing something no one has ever done before may end up tipping the scales in Durant’s favor.

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