Is Kevin Durant the Most Lethal and Efficient Scorer in NBA History?

Is Kevin Durant the Most Lethal and Efficient Scorer in NBA History?

FAIRFIELD, Ct. — Last April I dove into Kevin Durant’s insanely efficient statistics, and how it has helped Durant become one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA. But I’d like to take this beyond his efficiency. I would like to appreciate his greatness while also putting it into context with the greatest and most gifted scorers of all time, and see how Durant compares to other all time greats. And maybe we’ll finally see how good Kevin Durant actually is at putting the ball in the hoop, and if he is the most lethal and efficient scorer the game has ever seen!

First off, let’s say this is not due to recency bias. It’s been seven years since Durant was top five in MVP voting, let alone winning the award which came ten years ago. But, as I described in the article I wrote almost a year ago, he is still producing at a very high level and the longer he does it the more impressive it continues to be. Well let’s determine what IT is. Well, IT has been Kevin Durant’s volume scoring combined with his efficiency in the process. As we described last time, there is usually a fine line between a pure scorer and an efficient scorer. However, Durant changes this, as he’s been one of the highest volume scorers but while doing it efficiently.

Let’s start by breaking down the sheer dominance of his scoring. In 2014 Bleacher Report published an article about Durant’s insane volume scoring and how he was redefining what that means. When you look through the article, you can see some of his dominating 2014 scoring numbers compared to everyone else, making the decision relatively easy to give him the MVP award that season. Durant led the league in scoring four times in his first seven seasons, something only Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan have been able to do in history. Durant hasn’t even played 1,100 games, and yet is top ten in scoring all time with almost 29,000 points. He will eclipse the 30,000 point threshold next season, and will push him to about 6th or 7th all time in scoring. Let’s say Durant reaches 30,000 points at 1,100 games, which he’s on pace to do right now, and compare it to how fast it took every other player ever to reach the 30,000 point threshold:

1. Wilt Chamberlain – 940 games
2. Michael Jordan – 960 games
3. Kevin Durant – *1,099 games
4. Kareem Abdul Jabbar – 1,101 games
5. LeBron James – 1,107 games
6. Karl Malone – 1,152 games
7. Kobe Bryant – 1,180 games
8. Dirk Nowitzki – 1,377 games

So Durant doesn’t take many games to get his point threshold. Only the top two players ever in points per game have gotten to 30,000 points faster than Durant. And that’s why while there is a difference between volume scoring and efficient scoring, they go hand-in-hand. To be a great scorer, you have to make a decent amount of shots. So you’ll never see a volume scorer with horrific efficiency. But usually more shots gives more room for error. However, Durant is able to produce scoring totals that are up there with the best of all time without taking so many shots to get there. Here is Durant’s projected field goal attempts to get to 30,000 points compared to every other 30k scorer:

1. Kevin Durant – *20,581 shots
2. Karl Malone – 21,070
3. LeBron James – 21,662 shots
4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 22,127 shots
5. Dirk Nowitzki – 22,381 shots
6. Michael Jordan – 22,394 shots
7. Wilt Chamberlain – 22,663 shots
8. Kobe Bryant – 23,071 shots

Now, some of you may say Durant has an advantage by being in an era where the three point shot is prioritized. However, only one player didn’t have a large chunk of their career having the 3pt line, and that is Wilt Chamberlain who didn’t shoot outside the paint anyway. For players like Jordan and Malone, I say they simply weren’t talented enough from deep range to hit those shots consistently. Out of any top 20 point per game scorer ever with at least 700 games played, KD is 1st in points per shot attempt with 1.46. Durant is able to be more effective and efficient with each shot because he can, not because he’s in a specific era.

So this really shows how efficient Kevin Durant is at putting the ball in the hoop. He’s able to pile on high scoring numbers while taking less shots than other all time greats to get there. This explains why Durant is 21st all time in field goals and 25th all time in field goal attempts. He scores more than he’s supposed to. But I don’t think we should look at just point totals. Because I think we can all agree James Harden is a more lethal scorer than Dan Issel, whether Issel has 1500 more points than Harden or not.

Let’s look at points per game. Durant ranks sixth all time in that category. His career true shooting percentage is 62%. For those who don’t know, true shooting percentage is a way to judge how efficient a scorer is based on their shot selection. For example, Wilt Chamberlain has a higher career field goal percentage than Durant, but Durant’s career true shooting percentage is higher because it is more impressive to shoot 50% from all over the court compared to 54% inside eight feet. This is a great metric to describe efficiency from all areas of the court and put it into context. Let’s look at his career true shooting percentage compared to everyone else in the top six of scoring per game.

Kevin Durant: 62%
Joel Embiid: 61.4%
Luka Doncic: 58.7%
Michael Jordan: 56.9%
Wilt Chamberlain: 54.7%
Elgin Baylor: 49.4%

Let’s also address that Doncic and Embiid are ahead of Durant on this list in points per game, though they’re combined games played is still more than 200 less than Durant. So when you consider longevity, he’s probably a top five game-by-game scorer in history. To use another set of efficiency statistics, effective field goal percentage is an advanced way to calculate field goal percentage but to represent the value of three pointers compared to any other field goal. Durant has a career effective field goal percentage of 55.2%. Using the same criteria we used earlier for points per shot (24.7+ PPG w/at least 700 games played), Durant is second to only Stephen Curry in the EFG% department.

Something I admire about Durant is his ability to adapt throughout his career. Durant, now 35, is obviously a less gifted scorer than he was when he was 24 years old. That’s why while his scoring numbers have stayed the same, he’s had to preserve more energy which has made his scoring less dominant. He also tore his achilles in 2019, something that sidelined Durant for a seasons worth of time. This has also been a reason why he has less ability on the offensive end. However, he has instead improved his scoring ability by becoming more efficient, as he never shot over 51% from the field until he got to Golden State, and since has not had a fully-healthy season shooting worse. So while his ability has gone down as he’s gotten older, he’s still found way to get the ball in the hoop.

Durant’s career efficiency numbers are 50% from the field, 39% from deep and 88% from the free throw line. Unlike some of the other scoring stars we’ve mentioned, Durant can score from all areas on the floor. Here is hit shot chart by Basketball Index throughout his whole career of over 20,000 shots:

Durant can score from all areas and he’s efficient while doing so. And he uses those abilities to his advantage. Take a look at the chart below of the percentage of the time Durant takes certain shots and how far away they are from the basket (also found in the bottom right corner of the image above).

0-8 feet (28.1%)
8-16 feet (25.5%)
16-24 feet (20.0%)
3pt Range+ (26.3%)

So Durant essentially equally distributes his shots since he can shoot from all areas. This makes him a lethal scorer from anywhere on the court. If you have Basketball Index premium or are able to find shot charts elsewhere, look at other all time great scorers and how they shoot from different areas and how they distribute their shots. And you’ll only see it is nothing like Durant. The only guy who may compare would be LeBron James, but even his three point shooting and tendencies has gone up only over the last five years of his career, so Durant’s may even look more balanced.

But look at others. A guy like Michael Jordan is great inside 24 feet, but will definitely not benefit from taking a fourth of his shots from outside the arc. Stephen Curry CAN drive to rim, but taking 28% of his shots from under ten feet would be undervaluing his ability. Now, this doesn’t take away from Michael Jordan’s ability to dominate when driving to the basket, or Stephen Curry’s unbelievable shooting from long range. What it does tell us though is that Durant may be a more lethal offensive player, because he is not as reliant on one area of the court.

Durant is a very gifted and truly unstoppable offensive player. He’s a near seven foot, lengthy forward who can play any position, shoot from long range, and has the dribbling package and finishing ability to work with any top-tier defender in the league. Try throwing a tenacious defensive guard like Jrue Holiday in his face, and Durant will use his height to box him out into a fade away or shoot right over him. Try throwing 3x DPOY Rudy Gobert on him, and Durant’s dribbling skills and speed will make him look silly. Now, this does not suggest he is the most lethal offensive player ever, but his ability to shoot from all areas and his build makes it so much harder for defenders to truly find ways to ‘shut-him-down’.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Durant hasn’t won championships as a clear cut No. 1, and hasn’t shown much effort defensively or in the playmaking department as a whole. And playoff meltdowns like in 2012, 2016 and 2022 still sit on his resume. These may all be reasons to criticize his all time ranking as a whole. However, from a talent and executional perspective, it’s hard to find any player better than Kevin Durant at putting the ball in the hoop, something that has made him an all time great and one of the more lethal players of our generation.

Chase Coburn

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