May 13, 2013, 12:41 PM EDT
Anyway you slice it, Kevin Durant is doing a lot for the Thunder.
Traditional stats say Durant is averaging 34.0 points, 10.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.6 steals in 44.3 minutes per game since Russell Westbrook’s injury.
Advanced stats say Durant has 2.2 win shares for a team that has won five playoff games, which means Durant alone has accounted for 44 percent of his team’s wins – the highest mark on a team still playing. Stephen Curry is closest at 32 percent. (Though the incredible Chris Paul accounted for 65 percent of the Clippers’ two wins.)
The eye test says Durant is playing exactly like a superstar should when his team is shorthanded.
“I can do a lot more,” Durant said Sunday. “It’s always things you can do more. I talk to one of my good friends and he said no matter how good you’re playing you always can do more.
“That’s how I look at it. I just got to find ways to help them out and put them in great positions and continue to just be a vocal leader, a positive leader on the bench and every single time down the court and we’ll be fine.”
I can’t help but think of LeBron James. In 2005-06, LeBron became arguably the best player in the NBA. That was the first season he got a first-place MVP vote, at least.
Anyway, beginning with that season, LeBron spent five years in Cleveland as arguably the league’s best player. In those five years, the Cavaliers were more likely to lose before the conference finals than reach them. The point being, carrying a team at this level is hard – really, really hard.
But it’s also an opportunity for Durant.
Durant just had the best season of his career, maybe the best season by anyone other than LeBron since the mid-1990s. But Durant got no MVP support, and LeBron again ran away with the award. As we all know, LeBron – not Durant – is the best basketball player in the world right now.
LeBron took a team that started Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes and Sasha Pavlovic to the NBA Finals. Two years later, he took a team that started Mo Williams, Delonte West, Ilgauskas and Varejao back to the conference finals.
If Durant can carry the Thunder – a team that still has a better supporting cast than LeBron’s Cavs but plays in a much-tougher Western Conference – to the NBA Finals, the feat could vault Durant into the peripheral of the best-player discussion.
I don’t know whether Durant can do more, but I look forward to watching him try.
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