Even if he hadn't secured his third straight scoring title, Kevin Durant would have been satisfied with his 2011-12 regular season.
In fact, the Thunder's star proudly points to it as his best yet.
“To think back on everything I've done this season, I've gotten better. I've improved in every area I wanted to improve in,” Durant said. “I scored a few points, but I think as a defender and as a facilitator I got better and that was the whole thing.”
Durant edged Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant by .17 hundredths of a point to become the first player since Michael Jordan from 1996-98 to win three consecutive scoring titles. Durant is only the seventh player to win three straight scoring crowns, joining Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, George Mikan, George Gervin, Bob McAdoo and Neil Johnston. At 23, Durant is the youngest player to lead the league in scoring three straight seasons.
But Durant's all-around improvement, not his 28-point average, is what has him satisfied with what he accomplished this year. It's also what has catapulted Durant into a two-man conversation for this year's MVP award alongside Miami's LeBron James.
“I think this probably was my best year as an individual,” Durant said. “If I don't win any awards that's cool with me. I just want to grow as a player. Hopefully they start to come later in my career.”
In his fifth season, Durant averaged career-highs in rebounds, assists, blocked shots and field-goal percentage. He also averaged a career-high 3.76 turnovers — ranking second-to-last in the league — but those giveaways were a byproduct of Durant having the ball in his hands more than ever and evolving into a legitimate playmaker.
In other words, Durant did everything that was asked of him.
“Kevin's had a terrific year,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We challenged him to become more of a playmaker and his assist total has increased. We challenged him to rebound the basketball and that has increased. His field-goal percentage is right at 50 percent, and his 3-point percentage is good and he gets to the basket and makes free throws…And he's blocking some shots. He's stealing the ball one and a half times a game. He's done a great job of improving every year.”
James is the heavy favorite to win the MVP award, which would be his third in four seasons. But in many circles, Durant is considered every bit as deserving to take home his first MVP trophy. National analysts Steve Smith and Kurt Rambis are among several media members in recent days to have listed Durant as their choice for the award.
“I'm not just being biased, but he should be up there for MVP for the season that he had,” said Thunder center Kendrick Perkins. “But one thing about KD is he's all about team and he wants to win.”
Durant helped to lead the Thunder to a 47-19 record and the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. The Thunder will open the playoffs Saturday against the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, and many now consider Oklahoma City the favorite to come out of the West.
“We're going to go as far as he's capable of leading us,” said Thunder guard Derek Fisher of Durant. “But he doesn't want to go by himself. He wants us to come with him and go out there and play with passion and play hard, the same way he does every night. I'm looking forward to going into this postseason as a teammate of his.”