The game of basketball is built on a foundation of scoring the ball and not allowing your opponent to score the ball. The former has taken many shapes over the years since the NBA's inception on November 1st, 1946. Naturally the first big time scorer came from the low post with George Mikan, and the tradition continued with Bob Pettit and Neil Johnston. Then came Wilt Chamberlain, who then took scoring the basketball to heights we've never seen since, while also shaping many of the games rules. But Wilt still ultimately did his work in the low post. Over the years, before the 3PT shot, we seen many great scorers come in and out the league in many forms. Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Pistol Pete, George Gervin, Rick Barry, Connie Hawkins, John Havlicek, etc. - all amazing scorers that got their buckets in many different ways. While we love and appreciate everything about these players' games, it's very hard to keep the conversations together because they missed what has become the NBA's great equalizer: the 3PT shot. Introduced in 1979, the 3-ball was a cool change that we've grown to love. Basketball moving from tape delay to live and the invention of the 3PT shot marks the beginning of Modern Era basketball. We will begin my analysis of why Kevin Durant is the league's most complete scorer from there.
Kevin Durant's game is built on being versatile and having to be guarded everywhere on the floor. He can run off screens, spot up off the ball, drive off the bounce, pull up off the bounce, and finish in traffic. He's a great free throw shooter and his post up game is good enough to take advantage of mismatches. I went to BasketballReference.com and searched for players scoring 25 ppg, 45% FG, 35% 3PT, and 85% FT at minimum for a season. The only players to do that in a season: Ray Allen, Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird, George Gervin, Dirk Nowitzki, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Chris Mullin, Mitch Richmond, Glen Rice, and Kiki Vandeweghe. Kevin Durant has done it 10 times himself. He's been in the league for 11 seasons. In fact, his career average is 27 ppg, 49% FG, 38% 3PT, 88% FT for his career. Don't expect these numbers to drop in Oakland any time soon. He's become even more efficient taking his FG percentage to 53%, 3PT to 40%, all while maintaining the 25 ppg the last two seasons for the Warriors. At this point in the article there has been no mention of the Mt. Rushmore of Buckets which in my opinion are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, and Kobe Bryant. Let's examine.
Here I must remind you there's a difference between best and complete. Kareem is the league's career PTs leader at an astounding 38,387 points which may come to a surprise to the "uninitiated." Kareem did all of his work on the block and free throw line with an occasional venture in the mid range. The Captain had the most un-guardable move of all time with the Sky Hook. Serious question, do you remember him missing one? While we know he did, it still seems like it was money every time. His footwork was great, touch was amazing, and his length allowed him to punish defenders without a lot of opposition. But without his versatility, he pales to Durant as most complete.
Karl Malone is number two on the all time scoring list. Easily the games best Pick 'n Roll forward of all time, The Mailman worked mid-range, short corner, off the bounce from the post, and was an incredible finisher at the rim. Even Malone's post up work is something to marvel. Short fadeaways, jump hooks, up and under, and Bully Ball were all staples and compliments to that devastating PnR he and John Stockton perfected. Without the range and off the bounce work, it keeps him behind Durant as the most complete.
Kobe Bryant for me is the toughest shot maker of all time. He also might get the hottest. 81 points? Really? You go back and watch the tape. To see him dribble through, and around, the entire Toronto Raptors team makes you wonder why he wouldn't be the most complete? What can't Kobe do? Incredible athleticism, mid range is wet, off the bounce, can do it with range or work you in the post, game-winners, buzzer beaters, scoring over double teams, over bigs at the rim, posting small guards, crazy touch, amazing handles, strength, finesse...whatever you need, The Black Mamba will, and did, provide you with it. Where Durant has the upper hand is efficiency. Kobe has always been more volume than efficient, averaging 19.5 shots for his career even while spending eight of his years being a second option to Shaquille O'Neal. Durant for his career is averaging 18.8 shots while shooting more efficient FG, 3pt FG, and FT percentages. Take their best season as a scorer, Kobe put up 35 ppg on 45% FG, 34% 3pt, and 85% FT while taking 27 shots per game. Durant's best season 32 PPG on 50% FG, 39% 3pt FG, and 87% FT on 20 shots per game. Kobe is a better scorer just not as complete as Durant because he's just not as efficient nor as good as a shooter.
On to Mike who is the gold standard of basketball currently. First we have to acknowledge, as MJ says and we have video evidence of, "Kobe stole all my moves." There's video backing claim with identical side by sides. Come on, we all know its true. Mike was, before Durant, the most complete player. And I would not argue much against someone who could say he was most complete. The work was abundant. If you had a hot spot chart for MJ inside the 3pt arc its all red. Ferocity, formless, quick, strong, impeccable footwork, finishing with either hand, jumps just as high off either foot or off two feet. As I'm typing this, I'm even questioning my own study. MJ took on a crazy evolution. He came in as an athletic slasher, and when he got hot with the jumper, you were cooked! Once the physicality began to take a toll on His Airness, he then developed the mid range jumper to perfection along with adding strength to still finish in the punishing 80s, where a foul was deemed soft if the player still got the ball to the rim. One might question how Durant would do playing thru that kind of contact with hand checking rules and being very slight of frame. No way to know, so we have to play with the cards we've been dealt. After his first retirement, MJ started to be more crafty than explosive. MJ at his most complete for me was between 91-93 where he won 3 Scoring Titles in a row. In that 3 year stretch, Mike put up 31pts on 51% FG, 32% 3pt, 84% FT while putting up 23.6 shots per game. Some may say that the 3 years prior was his best. And I agree, it was his best. Only problem is, this isn't about best...it's about most complete, and he didn't take as many 3's in those years. Durant's best 3 year stretch: 29.5 ppg on 50% FG, 39% 3pt, 88% FT taking 19.4 shots per game capturing 2 scoring titles in the stretch. Durant is more complete because of his 3 point shooting, which could be a product of MJ being brought up in a different game. But these are the cards we have.
Now you maybe thinking "where the hell is Lebron Ramone James?" That answer is simple. He has never been able to, and can't shoot as good as KD on jumpshots. If you don't see how that disqualifies him, then I refer you to this quote (which you might not get) coined by the legendary Roger Mayweather: "Most people don't know shit about boxing." Lebron could very well end his career with the most points and bounce The Mailman off the Mt. Rushmore of scorers. You have to acknowledge Durant could come right behind him and snatch his stats with all time buckets and efficiency in the counting stats. I'd also like to add, whenever you see the highlight referenced in the picture above, or see the picture, you should hear me yelling "IS THIS YOUR KING!?!?!?!"
At the end we've never seen a creature like Kevin Durant, yet. His range, finishing, free throws, athleticism, touch around the rim, off the bounce...Kevin Durant checks those marks to completion, in my opinion, better than any one ever has.