Ranking Kevin Durant's Season with Greatest Scoring Wings in NBA History

Fred Katz@@FredKatzFeatured ColumnistApril 5, 2014

Ranking Kevin Durant's Season with Greatest Scoring Wings in NBA History

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    Kevin Durant is in the midst of what has arguably been the best scoring season of his career.

    The Oklahoma City Thunder forward is averaging a career-high and league-leading 32.1 points per game and continues to tear up opponents every night. 

    But does Durant's scoring output match up against others like him historically?

    We're not talking about best overall seasons for perimeter players. Just the best scoring years for any wings. And it's not merely taking into account those who happen to pour in the most points, regardless of how they do it.

    Efficiency matters. The frequency with which a player scores is important, but how effectively does he do it? Basketball involves more than just volume scoring, and when someone makes a statement that Durant is having one of the greatest scoring seasons of all time, he or she is not only referring to how many points he's averaging.

    With Durant, scoring goes beyond the point totals alone.

    Durant's brilliance won't cease. He has scored 25-plus points in 40 consecutive games now, tying Michael Jordan's modern-day record, which he accomplished twice in the 1980s.

    The streaks don't stop there, either. Durant has scored 20 or more in 50 consecutive games, the most since Kobe Bryant went for 63 straight in 2005-06.

    KD has been brilliant all season. This, we know. But can he hack it against the best wings ever?

9. Tracy McGrady, 2002-03

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    Tracy McGrady's first scoring title also came in his best overall season.

    In 2002-03, McGrady averaged a career-high 32.1 points per game, the first of two times he would lead the NBA in scoring. But it wasn't just the points that increased for McGrady in his third year with the Orlando Magic.

    He shot a career-best 45.7 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from three, second to only his final season in the league in which he appeared in just 52 games with the 2011-12 Atlanta Hawks. His 56.4 true shooting percentage was also the highest of his 15 NBA seasons. And let's realize how impressive it was that all of these numbers hit their peaks in this particular year.

    McGrady used 35.2 percent of his team's possessions in 2002-03. That means his efficiency improved along with his volume, even though those two traits tend to have an inverse relationship.

    His 52-point performance against the Chicago Bulls was one of the most exciting individual acts of the season, if only because he used more than half of his team's possessions that night. But that was McGrady, breathtaking due to his unabashed confidence. And as he paved the way to his first scoring title, that slight arrogance was never more apparent.

8. LeBron James, 2013-14

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    Does anyone really think of LeBron James as a scorer? Or is he something beyond that?

    Carmelo Anthony, that's a scorer. Kevin Durant, likewise. But LeBron? He seems to fall somewhere under the Swiss Army-knife category.

    Still, though, James is such a threat to put the ball in the basket that he finds himself on this list.

    This year isn't LeBron's best season in terms of points per game. His 26.7-a-night average is actually the worst since his rookie year. But scoring goes far beyond that.

    James, one of the most efficient players of all time, has posted career highs in true shooting percentage (64.8 percent) and effective field-goal percentage (61.0 percent). It's so uncommon to see someone with a usage rate over 30 percent posting such practical scoring numbers, but it's happening in Miami.

    That's part of what's so fascinating about the Durant vs. James MVP race. Durant is having his "best" scoring season and still, James bests him in true shooting. 

    Actually, Durant's true shooting percentage was even better last season than it is this year. 

    James' scoring isn't that far off from KD's, or anyone's for that matter, and the fact that we are actually thinking of this as a down season for LeBron only shows how tremendous his career has been.

7. Julius Erving, 1972-73

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    So this is kind of cheating the system, because Erving wasn't actually in the NBA during the 1972-73 season. Nope, this was back in the day, when Dr. J was carving up the ABA like an Afroed butcher. 

    Erving averaged a career-high 31.9 points per game for the Virginia Squires that year. His 27.7 PER led the league. His 7.4 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes were the most of his career as well.

    Erving's breakout season, which was his second year in the ABA, came under quite a bit of scrutiny mainly because he wasn't supposed to be there at all.

    Actually, Dr. J should have been in the NBA. Specifically, with the Milwaukee Bucks. But it never happened.

    After his first ABA season, Erving entered the 1972 NBA draft and was selected 12th overall by the Bucks. But the 6'6" forward tried his best to pull an Eli Manning or John Elway. He didn't want to play in Milwaukee and made moves to force his way to the Atlanta Hawks

    But there was a problem. A massive ABA issue. The Squires weren't on board with this plan.

    After filing court junctions, the Squires made sure Erving had to return to Virginia, and even though Dr. J ended up on the New York Nets the following season, those circumstances probably make his '72-73 campaign the most awkward, legendary scoring season ever.

6. George Gervin, 1979-80

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    Think Kevin Durant is prone to huge scoring outbursts? Check out George Gervin's game.

    Durant has gone for 40-plus 13 times this year. We think that's remarkable, mostly because it is; it's the most 40-point games of anyone in the NBA this season.

    But Gervin was on a different level.

    The Iceman dropped 40 or more 18 times during the 1979-80 season, twice topping 50.

    You want consistency? Gervin failed to score 20 in only four of his 78 games played. That's how to post an NBA-leading 33.1 points a night, the 12th-best non-Wilt Chamberlain scoring average ever.

    You want dominance? He averaged 36.4 points per game in the months of December and January combined.

    You want efficiency? How's a 58.7 true shooting percentage work for you?

    The 1979-80 season was a strange one. The first year of the three-point line meant confused offenses trying to figure out exactly how to use the new rule to their advantage. Gervin, though, maintained everything you'd want in a scorer and ended up having one of the best years of his Hall of Fame career.

5. Kevin Durant, 2013-14

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    Let's go through the track record quickly.

    Kevin Durant leads the NBA in scoring at 32.1 points per game. His 64.2 percent true shooting percentage ranks third in the league.

    He carried the Oklahoma City Thunder when Russell Westbrook was out for all of those games. He's potentially on his way to his first career MVP award. 

    But in some ways, this year hasn't even been the best scoring season of Durant's career. 

    The best overall season? Absolutely.

    KD's passing is improved. His defense has progressed. His decision making and ball-handling are as impressive as they've ever been. But Durant actually had a better true shooting percentage last season, when he led the league in free-throw percentage and posted a 180 shooting line.

    Either way, KD has become so dominant that we have to recognize this as a brilliant scoring season, even though he's entered the LeBron James realm as a guy who offers so much more than simply putting the ball in the bucket.

4. Kobe Bryant, 2005-06

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    If you averaged better than 40 a game in two separate months during the same season, you're going to make this list. That's exactly what Kobe Bryant did in the 2005-06 season, when he scored 43.4 a contest in January and 41.6 to close out April.

    You remember this season. Everyone remembers it. At least, everyone remembers one game from it.

    That's right, this is the year of the 81-point game. That 28-of-46 performance for the ages against the Toronto Raptors. And let's not forget what happened just a month before that January outburst.

    That's when Kobe scored 62 against the Dallas Mavericks...in only three quarters. So we're talking about a season that could have had not one, but two 80-point performances. It's so Kobe.

    Bryant finished out the year averaging a league-leading and career-high 35.4 points per game. In December and into January, he had a five-game streak of 40-plus points, which helped him reach 27 40-point performances on the season.

    Twenty-seven! That's one every three games. Basically, Kobe was dropping 40 once a week. 

    People don't do that. Or, let's rephrase: Normal people don't do that. It's just Kobe being Kobe.

3. Rick Barry, 1966-67

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    Like Dr. J, Rick Barry averaged his career-high points per game in his second pro season.

    Barry was the definition of a great player who bounced around. And not just with teams, but leagues, too.

    The Hall of Famer played his first two seasons for the San Francisco Warriors and later took off for the ABA. But not before scoring 35.6 points per game in his age-22 year.

    That single-season scoring average is the seventh-best ever. It's second in the non-Wilt category. And who's the only other person besides Chamberlain who has averaged more points per game in a year? Michael Jordan, of course.

    Actually, in his next season, Barry was on his way to an even better year, had he been able to play more than 35 games. After becoming one of the first players to leave the NBA for the ABA and having to sit out the '67-68 season, Barry averaged 34.0 points per game and led the league in true shooting.

    But all of that said, the highest-scoring non-Michael-or-Wilt season belongs to Rick Barry, and in the end, that's got to count for something.

2. Larry Bird, 1986-88

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    How do you feel about 50-40-90 seasons? I assume you like them a little bit. Everyone does.

    Now, tell me how you feel about those sorts of years when they involve a high dosage of scoring. It doesn't seem possible, right? Well, unless you're talking about Kevin Durant or Dirk Nowitzki.

    Actually, that's not true. Because Larry Bird put together two of the most incredible back-to-back seasons decades before Durant ever stepped onto an NBA court.

    For years, Bird has held the record (pretty comfortably) for the highest points-per-game average during a 180 shooting season. That's when he produced 29.9 points a night in 1987-88. 

    Second on that list? That was always Bird as well. In the season just prior, he averaged 28.1 points.

    Durant, though, tied that record for second place last year, when he also put up exactly 28.1 points per game. 

    Those two years were the best of Bird's career. In '86-87, he posted a career-high 61.2 true shooting percentage and led the league, knocking down 91 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe. 

    The following year was probably even better. He upped each of his field-goal, free-throw and three-point percentages while scoring that career-high 29.9 points a night.

    He was Larry Bird, the model of consistency, in the midst of what were his steadiest two seasons.

    Over those two years, he scored fewer than 16 points just six total times. And that includes a combined 40 playoff games. Bird didn't have bad games, and he scored as often and efficiently as anyone in the history of the league. We can rest assured that anyone would happily accept numbers like that on a nightly basis.

1. Michael Jordan, Every Year

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    It's pretty impossible to pick a Michael Jordan season, so we're just going to pick them all and leave it at that.

    We could go ahead and choose the default best scoring year. That would be 1986-87, when Jordan averaged 37.1 points per game, more than any non-Wilt player ever.

    But to pick Jordan's highest-scoring season would be choosing one that may not even be his best year, considering his 56.2 true shooting percentage was the 10th best of his career in '86-87.

    So maybe Jordan's best scoring year was '87-88, when he posted a 60.3 true shooting percentage and a record-breaking 31.7 PER while averaging 35.0 points. Maybe it was '89-90 or '95-96, when he actually shot the three at above-average rates.

    Or, considering Jordan won 10 scoring titles and seven straight at one point, we could just roll his whole career into one season and call that the best. Actually, let's do that. It seems like the most logical approach.


    Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com or on ESPN’s TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

    *All statistics current as of April 5 and from Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com, unless otherwise noted.