Kevin Durant is having another MVP type season for the Nets

Kevin Durant is having another MVP type season for the Nets

The Brooklyn Nets they are the hottest team in the NBA, and Kevin Durant is the biggest reason.

That Durant is even with the Nets is a surprise after the drama of this summer, when he asked for a trade even before his maximum four-year extension began, then reversed course less than two months later.

It seemed as if the chaos of the summer had spilled over into the season as Brooklyn started 1-5, leading to the departure of head coach Steve Nash. However, since November 1st, the Nets have the best record in the NBA at 19-7 and have established themselves as legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference. friday night they beat the Milwaukee Bucksthe team with the best record in the league, for their 12th win in their last 13 games.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround, led by Durant, who, at 34, is playing some of the best basketball of his career on both ends of the court, making a legitimate case that he’s the true MVP. Here’s how he’s doing it.

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During the elite goal as always

As a scorer, Durant remains the most versatile individual force in basketball. Averaging 29.9 points per game, this could be his best scoring season since 2013-14, when he averaged 32.0 points per game and won MVP as a 25-year-old phenom with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Durant has put up ridiculous numbers inside the arc this season, converting 63% of his 2-point attempts, while also putting up career-best efficiency numbers in the paint and in the mid-range.

His prime has coincided with a jump shot revolution that changed the NBA, but while almost all of his contemporaries are taking more 3s and fewer midrangers, Durant is going the other way.

This season he has made an NBA-most 164 2-point jumpers on 59.6 percent shooting, an incredible mark that ranks first among the 30 NBA players who have attempted at least 100 these shots

It’s hard to overstate how wild this is. Only two players have combined volume and mid-range efficiency like this since the NBA has been charting shot locations since 1996. Their names are Michael Jordan and Dirk Nowitzki, and Durant’s numbers are better than both

Durant’s 59.6% conversion rate is nearly 10 points higher than Jordan and Nowitzki, and five points higher than last season, when he previously set the highest mark for a mid-volume shooter over the past 25 years.

Durant may not only be the best mid-range scorer of his era, but he may be the best we’ve ever seen.

In the era of endless 3s, he not only dominates the much-maligned midrange, but single-handedly reminds the basketball world that scoring average can be both effective and beautiful to watch.

And he does it by dribbling through the heart of defenses, creating his own looks wherever he wants and knocking them down at record rates, often against the best defenses the NBA has to offer.

This season, Durant is shooting 55.2% on contested jumpers off the dribble, which is on pace for the highest conversion rate among the more than 1,200 instances of a player attempting 100 of those shots in a season since 2013-14, for second. spectrum

And the Nets are reaping the rewards. With the league’s best offense, the Nets rank first in the league making 53.6% of their 2s without the paint, easily outpacing the Boston Celticswhich ranks second with 47.1%.

Modern defenses prioritize taking shots near the rim and from beyond the arc, but both Durant and Kyrie Irving they are creating an efficient attack in the open spaces between these zones. They are using large pieces of the chessboard that most offensive players and teams have abandoned.

Conventional wisdom in the modern NBA says that you can’t find efficient offense in the dry areas between the paint and the 3-point line, but Brooklyn is bucking that calculus.

The average 2-point jump shot is worth just 0.86 points this season, but this Nets team is averaging 1.11 points on those shots; no other team in the league is over 0.96.

The new two-way KD

This is Durant’s 15th season in the NBA (not including the 2019-20 season, which he sat out while rehabbing an Achilles injury). He has been named an All-Star 12 times and earned 10 All-NBA selections. But for all the accolades Durant has racked up, he’s never been considered an elite defender. He has never made a defensive team, and has only received Defensive Player of the Year votes once: in 2016-17, his first season with the Golden State Warriors.

The conversations surrounding Durant almost always focus on his scoring, but this season he has become a major asset on defense.

Overall, Durant is holding opponents to 39.5% when contesting his shot. That ranks third among the 71 players with 300 shots, per Specter, but he does his best work closer to the basket.

So far this season, 30 NBA defenders have taken at least 200 shots in the paint. Among that group, Durant has allowed the lowest field goal percentage — opponents are converting just 45.8% of their shots in the paint in those situations.

With Nash at the helm, the Nets ranked 29th in the league in defensive efficiency in October, but since Nov. 1, they’ve ranked eighth, an improvement that bodes well for Brooklyn’s championship aspirations, as he has made only one of the last 10 NBA champions. ranked outside the top 10 in defense in the regular season (Durant’s 2017-18 Warriors, who were 11th). Head coach Jacque Vaughn has found new rotations that get shutouts, but it has been Durant and Nick Claxton who have been at the center of the team’s defensive reactivation.

Along with Durant, Claxton ranks third in this paint defense group. While this frontcourt may not be the strongest or the best on the glass, these numbers reveal that they are effective at protecting the rim, and that gives the Nets something they desperately lacked in the Nash era: a semblance of ‘defensive identity.

Presentation of the MVP case

We’ve come to expect greatness from Durant, but what he’s been doing recently as the top scorer and top defender on one of the league’s best teams is quickly changing the conversation for this team this season. The Nets are playing like a contender, and Durant is making a push for his second MVP trophy, nine years after winning his first.

Durant’s only MVP came back in 2013-14, when he was 25 years old and playing most of his minutes as a small forward. Now he’s in Brooklyn, logging most of his minutes at power forward and center.

Durant has only received one MVP vote in the previous three seasons, and hasn’t finished in the top five in MVP voting since 2016. For someone we consider a perennial MVP candidate and one of the best players of the era , hasn’t really been an MVP contender since the year he won his only award nearly a decade ago.

Durant is by no means the only superstar making a strong early case to win the Michael Jordan Trophy. He was seventh in ESPN’s first MVP straw poll of the season and did not receive any first- or second-place votes. But it’s hard to imagine how this Nets team could be anywhere near the top of the East without him, a scenario it faced for much of the offseason.

Under normal circumstances, any hyper-efficient superstar scorer of any candidate would become an MVP candidate, but against the chaotic backdrop of this Nets soap opera — a chaos in which Durant himself admits he had an important role– what he has done During this season. has been particularly noteworthy.

Matt Williams of ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this story.

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