Kobe, LeBron and Melo Won't Catch Up to Kevin Durant's MVP Pace

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 29, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 19:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts after hitting a three-point basket against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on December 19, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Kevin Durant has held plenty of titles during his basketball career, notably: Olympic gold medalist, Western Conference Champion and youngest scoring champion in league history.

But the 2012-13 season has him well on his way to adding to both his resume and mantle.

The key cog in perhaps the league's scariest team, Durantula has crawled his way to the top of the MVP ladder.

He may be denied a fourth consecutive scoring title (although his 28.5 points per game will keep him in the running throughout the season), but he's never played better on the offensive end.

He's on pace for career highs in field-goal percentage (51.8), three-point percentage (43.5), free-throw percentage (90.4) and assists (4.2). That 28.5 scoring average betters the efforts put forth with his last two scoring crowns. He's kept himself in the league's elite class of scorers despite attempting the second-fewest field goals of his career (17.8 per game).

The Oklahoma City Thunder figured to face some regression on the offensive end after the offseason departure of James Harden. While they added a reliable scoring threat in Kevin Martin, they lost Harden's creativity and decision-making.

In reality, though, the increased touches coming Durant's way may have made this club an even more explosive group. With 105 points per game, the Thunder have averaged the second-most points in the NBA.

The league's toughest cover (a 6'9" athletic specimen with in-the-gym range) has made himself an even tougher matchup. He's a more willing passer and more selective shooter. A legitimate threat to force his way into the super exclusive 50-40-90 club, he'd be the first entry not first known for his shooting ability.

Of course, with LeBron James as the reigning MVP, it will take more than just scoring to capture the award.

Here's where Durant has cemented his position as the award favorite. His 8.4 rebounds per game have him on pace for yet another career high, as do his blocks (1.4) and steals (1.5).

He still has the lack of strength that worried scouts when he entered the league in 2007, but he does have tremendous instincts and leaping ability. He's even threatening to make LeBron James' trademark chase-down blocks his own.

As good as Durant has been, though, he's not without competition.

First off, there's Kobe Bryant. The 34-year-old has nearly created a two-point edge in the scoring race (30.2 points per game). And he's done so on a career-best 47.8 field-goal percentage.

But the Los Angeles Lakers (14-15) are a mess, particularly on defense. And Bryant hasn't alleviated those defensive concerns, he's contributed to them.

There's also New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. He's playing the best basketball of his career (25.9 player efficiency rating) and has returned (legitimate) championship hopes to the Big Apple.

But his team has started to show a little vulnerability (3-3 in their past six), and may continue to do so if their three-point shooters cool off from their historic pace. Not to mention the fact that the team still has to deal with the pending return of Amar'e Stoudemire, which could prove destructive to their newfound defensive tenacity.

And then there's the King, the biggest threat to Durant's hardware. His Miami Heat have raced out to a conference-best 20-7 mark. He leads his team in scoring (25.6 per game), rebounding (8.7) and assists (6.9).

But the defending champions have had their own struggles, particularly away from the friendly confines of American Airlines Arena (where they've played nearly 60 percent of their games). They have just six wins to show for 11 road games.

It'll be a tight race all season, and Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul continues to state his own claim in its inclusion.

But right now Durant's got the lead, and the 24-year-old's hunger will prove to tough for his competitors to overcome.

Of course, this isn't the hardware that Durant is most concerned with clutching at season's end.

*All statistics used in this article are accurate as of 12/27/2012.