A disappointing Finals outcome — one in which Durant was largely fabulous — served as the first bit of proof to Durant that winning a title would take a team effort. And so while much of the basketball world spent this season imploring Durant to shoot more, the reigning three-time scoring champion stubbornly strove to become a better passer, to make his teammates better.
“He's won three scoring titles in a row and he seems to get better,” said Nowitzki. “His all-around game is getting better. I think he understands the game better. Now he passes it and doesn't force a lot of shots.”
Durant has averaged just 17.7 shots, his fewest since his rookie season. But, quietly, three of Durant's teammates — Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha and Reggie Jackson — are averaging career-highs. Russell Westbrook still has a chance to be the fourth.
“His mental approach is outstanding,” Hall of Fame guard Chris Mullin, now an analyst for ESPN, said of Durant. “He could take more shots if he wanted to. The fact that he has set boundaries for himself, how he plays the game, it's impressive.”
Durant's average attempts, however, still rank third among 50-40-90 members. Bird, who achieved 50-40-90 status twice, tops the list with 20.2 and 22 attempts per game, respectively, in 1987 and 1988. Nowitzki, with 17.2 attempts per game, is the only other player in the club who has done it while attempting more than 13.5 shots.
“That's truly historic,” Nash said of Durant. “If you can do that with the amount of shots and responsibility that he has, it'll be a phenomenal accomplishment. I think Bird did it. That'd be the other guy who was a scorer like that and was able to do that. That's pretty damn good company, and I think he deserves that type of company.”
There's another factor that distinguishes Durant.
Durant will become the youngest player ever to join the club. Price was 25 when he did it. No other player did it before the age of 28.
“He's probably the best pure athlete and scorer out of all of us,” Miller said of Durant. “And he's just scratched the surface. Steve Nash has done it four times. (Durant) will probably be able to pass that because he's done this at such a young age.”
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WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
Current and former NBA players and coaches discuss Kevin Durant's growth and impending inclusion into the 50-40-90 Club.
* Hall of Fame guard Chris Mullin — “The way he's doing it is even more impressive because the way he scores is more incredible. The only other guy to score at such a high rate is Larry Bird… He's a throwback. He really is. It's just incredible.”
* Hall of Fame guard and 50-40-90 Club member Reggie Miller — “When you take the amount of shots that he's taken each and every night and still be able to do that with teams and players doubling and sometimes triple teaming you, that's what probably makes it the most impressive.”
* Dallas forward and 50-40-90 Club member Dirk Nowitzki — “To me, he's right up there obviously with LeBron and Kobe for best player in the league. He's long. He can rebound. There's really no faults in his game. So I'm a huge fan of his.”
* Golden State coach Mark Jackson — “To be his size, to be that athletic, to be able to shoot that well, the guy is off the charts. And he's efficient. I think those numbers speak volumes about how efficient he is as a basketball player. This game has not seen anybody like Kevin Durant in its history.”
* Los Angeles Lakers guard and 50-40-90 Club member Steve Nash — “That's truly historic. If you can do that with the amount of shots and responsibility that he has, it'll be a phenomenal accomplishment. I think Bird did it once. That'd be the other guy who was a scorer like that and was able to do that. That's pretty damn good company, and I think he deserves that type of company.”
* Thunder guard Kevin Martin — “He could easily score 35 to 37 a night on 40-40-90. But that's just not him. He's in it for the team and that's why he's such a special player.”'
* San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich — He's progressed very quickly as far as the mental side of the game”