Back in 2007, many of us took notice of a 6’9” forward out of the University of Texas who began capturing the nation’s attention as he was sweeping through awards ceremonies taking home every single player of the year award. Not since 2000, when Kenyon Martin took home all the awards, had a player accomplished this feat. The key difference here being that Martin was a senior. Kevin Durant, on the other hand, was a 19-year-old freshman who was averaging 26 ppg and 11 rpg when he won every major college player of the year award in 2007.
After leading his team to a second-round exit in the NCAA tournament, Durant immediately forged a path to the NBA and was taken 2nd overall in that year’s draft. It is important to remember this year Durant spent in college. The primary reason is that, at a young age, Durant was displaying the ability to score at will in a variety of ways. He was likened to another talented, tall, slender scorer who also moved gracefully on the court: Tracy McGrady.
Due to a plague of injuries endured by Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady would spend his time in Orlando proving to everyone in the association that he could be an unstoppable offensive force. McGrady would go on to lead the NBA in scoring twice, peaking at 32.1 ppg in 2003. That year, McGrady shot nearly 39% from 3-point range on 6 attempts per game. That would prove to be his best shooting and scoring performance throughout his career, as he also achieved career highs in both 2-point percentage and overall field goal percentage.
Although it was clear that there were similarities between the two players, what most observers noted was that Durant was a much better shooter from long distance. His 3-point shot always appeared more natural than McGrady’s. With his height advantage, it seemed clear that Durant was the best NCAA freshman prospect since Carmelo Anthony in 2003.
After being selected 2nd overall in the 2007 NBA Draft, Kevin Durant began his professional playing career in the city of Seattle. He would spend one season there, averaging slightly above 20 points per game, before the franchise relocated to Oklahoma City. This is where Durant would spend the next 8 seasons of his career unleashing a scoring barrage on the entire NBA.
In his third season, Durant would compete in all 82 of his team’s regular season games while leading the Thunder to 50 wins and a first-round playoff exit to the defending and repeat champion L.A. Lakers. That year, at the age of 21, he would capture his first scoring title averaging 30.1 ppg. He would go on to capture 3 out of the next 4 scoring titles, culminating with an average of 32 ppg, winning the MVP award, and advancing to the conference finals in 2014.
At this stage of his career, while in a Thunder uniform, Kevin Durant had managed to average 28.6 ppg, on averages of 48.7%, 38.5%, and 88.3%, while competing in 98% of his team’s games. He already led the Thunder to one appearance in the NBA Finals in 2012, losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Over that same span, his scoring average increased to 28.9 ppg during the postseason.
The very next year, Durant would go down with a foot injury and miss more than half of his team’s games. Without Kevin Durant, the Thunder began relying more heavily on their young, talented point guard, Russell Westbrook. Without the assistance of the team’s primary scoring option, the athletic Westbrook began gathering up one triple-double after another on a regular enough basis that it did not seem possible. He would go on to lead the league in scoring that year, averaging 28.1 ppg. The Thunder almost made it into the playoffs, and some observers began questioning whether or not Durant should continue to be the team’s leader moving forward.
The following season, Durant would go on to have a spectacular year, averaging 28.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, and 5 apg, while competing in 72 of his team’s regular season games. Westbrook would continue his attack on the record books, averaging 23.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, and 10.4 apg. The Thunder would go on to push the defending champion Golden State Warriors to the brink of elimination during the conference round of the NBA playoffs.
On May 25th, 2016, the Oklahoma City Thunder were up 3 games to 1 over the Golden State Warriors. By May 31st, the Warriors had already moved on to that year’s NBA Finals to face LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
What happened next shocked the sports world. Kevin Durant made a decision that is still scrutinized to this day. On July 4th, 2016, Kevin Durant announced to the world, via an article published by The Players’ Tribune, that he was leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors. Many believed this to be a cowardly move because the Warriors had just beat the Thunder that year. As a Thunder fan, that had to sting – your team’s best player deciding he’d rather compete alongside the enemy.
After his first season with the Warriors, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Kevin Durant had made the right choice. He captured his first NBA title and the series MVP award. Some even believed that he surpassed LeBron James to become the league’s top player. Official and unofficial titles aside, what was undisputedly clear was that Kevin Durant had cemented his legacy as one of the game’s all-time greats. At this point in his career, Kevin Durant had also accumulated a total of 19,121 points during the regular season throughout his entire NBA career.
We have seen other prolific scorers in the past dominate the regular season and struggle during the playoffs. George Gervin and Allen Iverson have each earned 4 scoring titles throughout their careers; and yet, they have one appearance in the Finals collectively between the two of them. Tracy McGrady never even made it out of the first round of the playoffs while with Toronto, Orlando, and Houston. Kevin Durant, on the other hand, had just displayed one of the best performances in Finals history. With Golden State down 111–113 with less than a minute to go, during game 3 in Cleveland, Kevin Durant’s outcome-altering 3-pointer with just under 46 seconds left on the clock will likely be remembered as the biggest shot of his career. The shot was punctuated by the fact that James was defending Durant. You could almost see Durant stepping on the throat of the entire Cavaliers team, at that moment. From there, Golden State was determined to take care of business and not carelessly blow a big lead like they had the year before. They did – winning the series in 5 games.
Fast forward to January 10th, 2018, at the age of 29 years, 103 days, Kevin Durant scored 40 points while at home against the L.A. Clippers. He needed only 25 points to reach the 20,000-point mark. Clearly, he had a goal in mind. He only needed 18 shot attempts and 8 free throw attempts to get there, going 6 of 7 from 3-point range. The Warriors, however, were without their two All-Star guards, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson; and they lost 125–106. Durant became the second youngest player to reach this milestone. He passed Kobe Bryant, who reached that goal at the age of 29 years, 122 days, for second place on this list. LeBron James reached this number at a younger age than anyone in history when he reached it at the age of 28 years and 17 days. The only other players to reach this plateau before the age of 30 were Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. Durant has etched his name into the record books already. This will only be a temporary stop for him along his journey. Even teaming with other great scorers in the form of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Durant has managed to maintain an average of at least 25 ppg every year since the start of his second season. Assuming he continues to score at least 1,700 points per year, he will quickly surpass the next milestone marker of 25,000 at some point within the next three years. At that point, Durant will be 32 years old. I imagine that an older Durant will still be able to shoot the ball at a high rate from wherever he wants.