HOUSTON — No player in NBA history has accomplished the three-pronged feat Kevin Durant is now creeping closer to completing.
With only 29 games remaining in his 2012-13 regular season, Durant continues to lead the league in scoring while producing an especially rare show of shooting accuracy. If he leads the Oklahoma City Thunder to the best record, Durant will become the first player ever to win the scoring title, shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line and do it all on the league's best team.
And yet Durant still could fall short of his first Most Valuable Player award.
That's right. A season so dominant, so efficient, so successful still might not be enough to earn Durant his first league MVP trophy.
He can thank LeBron James for that.
The top two finishers for the award last year again are locked in a two-man battle for the game's most prestigious honor. But for Durant to even be in the conversation, let alone have a shot at winning MVP, speaks volumes about both his improvement and impact given that James is just about universally considered the best player on the planet.
“If I win it, of course that will be cool. That will be something I'll really enjoy,” said Durant, who will compete in his fourth consecutive All-Star Game on Sunday. “But if I don't, hopefully I'll win it sometime throughout my career.”
Durant will do all he can to finish the season strong and strengthen his case. Though he's averaging 29.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocked shots, Durant is resigned to the fact that the honor is out of his control.
“You respect it, but it's sometimes about the story throughout a season.” Durant said of the MVP award. “Because voters are the media, and they love stories, of course.”
James, at the moment, just happens to be the biggest, if not best, story in all of basketball. After finally winning his first NBA Championship in his ninth season last year, defeating Durant and the Thunder 4-1 in the Finals, James went on to help the USA win Olympic gold in London before being named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated. He then began showing he's as good as ever in his 10th season.
James is averaging 27.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 1.7 steals while shooting 56.5 percent from the field and 42.4 percent from 3-point range, both career highs. He recently strung together six straight games of at least 30 points on 60 percent or better shooting. In the game that snapped the streak, James thoroughly outplayed Durant as the Heat routed the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
“LeBron, especially lately, has been on another planet, the things he's been doing,” said Gregg Popovich, the San Antonio Spurs and Western Conference All-Star coach. “He's on a heck of a run. Obviously, he's probably the guy to catch (in terms of) MVP if he continues to play the way he's playing. But there's a lot of season left. We'll see how teams and players do down the stretch.
“Kevin's just going to play. He's not going to worry about who's the MVP. Everybody talks about it. But people like LeBron and Kevin, they want rings more than they want MVP. Kevin's not going to say ‘What do I have to do to be MVP.'”
Only five players have secured the necessary shooting percentages to join what has been labeled the “50-40-90 club.” They are Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki.
Durant, at 51.9 percent from the floor, 42.7 percent from the 3-point line and 90.7 percent from the foul line, is well on his way to becoming the sixth.
Nowitzki is the only player among the current five-man club who amassed percentages of 50-40-90 while leading his team to the best regular-season record. That came in 2007, when Nowitzki won the regular season MVP award but ranked 14th in scoring at 24.6 points per game. Nash is the only other player in the 50-40-90 club to win MVP in the same season that he achieved those shooting percentages. His honor came in 2006, when he ranked 33rd in scoring with an 18.8-point average. With 54 wins, however, the Suns finished 10 shy of Detroit that season.
Durant and the Thunder will come out of All-Star Weekend needing to make up 2 1/2 games on the Spurs in order to finish with the best record. It won't be easy. The Spurs have won 14 of their past 15 and also have already completed four additional road games.
But Popovich knows better than to hold anything past Durant at this point. Asked what impresses him most about Durant's season, Popovich immediately pointed to Durant's consistency.
“He does this night in and night out,” Popovich said. “He's competitive. He does what he needs to do to help his team win every night. The other thing is he's becoming more of a leader. He's becoming more vocal. He's demanding in the right way of his teammates. He's become one of the more mature players in the league in that sense, even though he's still a young guy. He's progressed very quickly as far as the mental side of the game.”
The only thing left is for Durant to be honored accordingly.
As the reigning All-Star Game MVP patiently awaits the outcome, he continues to marvel at how far he's come and the company he now keeps.
“I sit at home all the time and just reminisce on the road I've taken to get here,” Durant said. “Growing up and working so hard every day just to become good and become one of the best players in the league at this time is a great accomplishment. I never can take it for granted being here.”