After posting second-place finishes in MVP voting following the 2009-10, 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, and a fifth-place nod in 2011-12, Durant has now risen to the top of the ballot, capturing the first Maurice Podoloff Trophy of his career after becoming just the fourth player in NBA history to lead the league in scoring for four times in five years, joining Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, George Gervin and Michael Jordan. (If you want to get technical, he's actually led the league in scoring five years running; Carmelo Anthony topped the association in points per game last year, but Durant, who played in 14 more games than the New York Knicks star, was tops in overall points.) He's also the first player to win both the scoring title and MVP in the same season since Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson pulled off that double in 2000-01, according to ESPN's Stats & Information.
Durant averaged a career-high 32 points and 5.5 assists per game to go with 7.4 rebounds per contest, becoming the fourth player in NBA history to average 32-7-5 for a full season — it's him, Wilt, MJ and Elgin Baylor. (Nice company to be in.) He also posted career highs in effective field goal percentage (which accounts for 3-pointers being worth more than 2-pointers), assist percentage (the share of his teammates' buckets on which he notched a direct assist) and Player Efficiency Rating (an admittedly imperfect, but still useful, stat), turning in a league-leading 29.8 — nearly twice the league-average of 15. He used a higher share of the Thunder possessions than ever before and turned the ball over less often than he had since 2010-11. He just got better, full stop, and when you're already as good as Kevin Durant is, getting better can make you the best.
Durant received 119 of a possible 125 first-place votes — 124 from voting sportswriters/broadcasters, and one fan vote via NBA.com — tallying 1,232 total award points en route to his landslide victory. (First-place votes were worth 10 points, second-place bids worth seven, third-place nods worth five, fourth-place ballots worth three, and fifth-place votes worth one.) In an inversion of the '09-'10, '11-'12 and '12-'13 voting, four-time MVP LeBron James of the Miami Heat placed second to Durant, receiving the other six first-place votes and totaling 891 points. James himself promoted Durant's MVP bona fides last month, and did so again on Monday.
Blake Griffin, whose Los Angeles Clippers just got finished smacking around Durant's Thunder in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series, finished a distant third with 434 points. Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (322 points) can add a fourth-place finish to his Defensive Player of the Year honors as he recuperates following postseason knee surgery, and Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (85 points) can salve the sting of That Shot with his fifth-place nod.
Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, Clippers point guard Chris Paul, Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson, Indiana Pacers forward Paul George, and Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge rounded out the top 10 in MVP voting. You can check out the full voter-by-voter breakdowns here.
Durant's made no bones about his distaste for coming in second in the past, and from the very beginning of this season, he set about elevating himself to the NBA's No. 1 spot. He opened the season by hanging 48 on the hapless Utah Jazz ... then averaged 28, 8.5 and 5 on 50/44/88 shooting splits through Christmas ... then upped his game with star point guard/running buddy Russell Westbrook sidelined by knee surgery, putting up 35, 7.5 and 6.3 on 53/40/88 shooting and leading Oklahoma City to a 20-7 record over the 27 games between Christmas Day and Westbrook's post-All-Star-break return.
He was a late-game hero whenever the Thunder needed one. He was a constant source of offense, producing monster 30-point and 25-point scoring streaks. He went one-on-one with LeBron and came out on top. He hung 54 on Golden State and 51 on Toronto, and scarcely seemed to break a sweat in doing so.
As much fun as it was to handicap the LeBron vs. KD horse race earlier this season, Durant had established early on that it was his race to lose, and he never did because he never wavered in his commitment to getting it right, all the time. From Cliff Brunt of The Associated Press:
"What he does is tough to do," teammate Nick Collison said. "I think we take it for granted. To be able to stay on for long periods of time — have to cut hard, catch the ball in the right spot and defend on the other end — is tough to do. To be able to show that shows that he has an edge to him. He doesn't take a night off."
For all the recent talk of "unreliability," it is that unwavering dedication to being the best player on the court every time he steps on the court that has elevated Durant to such great heights. It remains to be seen whether his Thunder will bounce back against an excellent Clippers team to advance to the Western Conference finals and beyond, but six months after our pre-Halloween tip-off, we know this much to be true: This NBA season has belonged to Kevin Durant, and now he's got one piece of hardware to prove it. It's up to him to spend the next seven weeks getting the other one.
- - - - - - -