NBA Fans Must Stop Overlooking Kevin Durant's Evolution

Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterJanuary 10, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 07: Kevin Seraphin #13 (L) and Martell Webster #9 of the Washington Wizards pressure Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half of the Wizards 101-99 win at Verizon Center on January 7, 2013 in Washington, DC. 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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

In terms of regular-season production, the gap between LeBron James and Kevin Durant has closed. For now, LeBron leads narrowly in PER, and KD leads the league in basketball reference's win shares. This isn't the same as saying they're equal players, but it is significant that James no longer holds such a statistical edge against everyone else. 

What's also intriguing is that the gap hasn't narrowed due to a drop-off in LeBron's play. The King stays the King, thanks to a polished post game, an accurate mid range jumper and improved three point range. 

LeBron currently owns what would be a career-best 61.4 percent career true shooting mark (threes and free throws incorporated) and a career-best 58.0 percent effective field-goal mark (threes included, minus free throws).

In theory, James should be blowing all competition out of the water. He's only gotten better over the scope of his incredible career. 

It's just that Kevin Durant (and Chris Paul, but that's a different article) has grown in unforeseen, nearly unprecedented ways. The old knock on Kevin Durant was that he couldn't create a shot for himself, and it's a criticism that I may have levied on occasion. 

He's grown past that problem. In 2010-2011, more than 62 percent of Durant's points were assisted (via HoopData). The next season, he cut that number to 48 percent. 

This wasn't just some statistical noise, Durant's improved handle was visible to the eye. Over the lockout season, he polished his dribbling technique through practice and summer league play. Suddenly, KD wasn't so dependent on Russell Westbrook for his buckets. 

This year, more of KD's buckets are coming off assists, but it's more a matter of choice than dependency. Durant plays a restrained game, only forcing the issue if his team absolutely needs the issue forced.

Players don't often improve their dribbling over the course of a career, so Durant's growth was more than notable. It also set up his improvement in another important facet of the game.

After James Harden was traded, the Thunder needed another creator on offense. This has not traditionally been the purview of Durant's game. The super scorer swing man has averaged more turnovers than assists in every season.

That would be every season save for this one. Right now, Durant is averaging 4.2 dimes per contest. He's doing a lot of the passing on the move, dishing to cutters after slashing a defense. The passing would not be possible without his dribbling progression.

That's how it's gone for Kevin Durant and hopefully how it will go, moving forward. One improvement sets up the next one. Not only is he a fun player to appreciate in a vacuum, his ability to evolve is a delight unto itself.