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As Nets continue rise up Eastern Conference standings, Kevin Durant’s MVP case keeps getting stronger

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The current era of Nets basketball could be defined by one word: drama.

There have been vaccination issues. There have been injury problems. There have been trade requests. There have been social media posts, suspensions and apologies.

At least for a brief moment in that tumultuous timeline, though, there have been wins. Heading into Wednesday’s contest against the Warriors, the Nets have won 10 of their last 11 games, jumping up to No. 4 in the Eastern Conference.

Kevin Durant, who once seemed destined to leave Brooklyn, has been the driving force behind Brooklyn’s surge. But the 34-year-old isn’t just the most important player on his team.

He should be considered one of the leading candidates in the early MVP race.


Breaking down Kevin Durant’s MVP case

Let’s start with the numbers — because they are insane.

Durant is averaging 30.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.6 blocks through 30 games. He is setting new career highs in field goal percentage (56.5), 2-point field goal percentage (63.1) and free throw percentage (92.4). He is also shooting a respectable 36.2 percent on 3-point attempts.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Durant’s offensive game is that he thrives in areas where the rest of the league struggles. Among players who shoot at least three midrange shots per game, Durant owns the highest field goal percentage (56.9). And among players who shoot at least five pull-up shots per game, Durant is the most efficient by far (55.4).

He is the league leader in total points and total field goals, yet this guy’s shooting chart looks like a botanical garden.

Durant faces opponents that have created specific defensive plans to stop him on a nightly basis, but he still figures out a way to get his points without dominating the ball.

“I never know how opposing teams are going to guard me, what schemes they’re going to throw at me,” Durant said after he scored 43 points in a 124-121 win over the Pistons. “Sometimes there’s some new stuff that I haven’t seen before. At this point, I’ve seen a lot of different coverages over the last couple of years.

“I’m trying to stay prepared for that. So that’s definitely how I can keep getting better, just reading the defense even more.”

The 12-time All-Star scored 26 of those 43 points in the third quarter, hitting a wide array of shots. Dunks, floaters, midrange jumpers, triples, free throws — Durant showed the Little Caesars Arena that he didn’t have a bag. He had an entire suitcase.

And let’s not forget about his defense. Durant has contested the second-most shots on his team behind Nic Claxton, and opposing players are shooting nearly four percent worse than expected against him.

Beyond his incredible skill set, Durant is bringing terrific leadership and infectious energy to the court for the Nets. YES Network analyst Sarah Kustok recently explained that impact to ESPN’s Zach Lowe on “The Lowe Post” podcast.

“There has been a different level of just enthusiasm and joy that I’ve seen him play with that has been so much fun to watch,” Kustok said. “To me, that’s where it all begins with this team and with their success.”

Can Durant sustain this level of play? His shooting numbers are high even by his lofty standards, but the bigger concern may be durability. As of Dec. 20, Durant had played the third-most total minutes in the NBA. (Only Anthony Edwards and Mikal Bridges had logged more minutes than him.)

And those are heavy minutes. Durant has a usage percentage of 31.8, the third-highest mark of his career. He has only missed one game this season, so Brooklyn will have to monitor his health and workload.

There are always going to ebbs and flows to awards races. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Jayson Tatum, and others have thrown their hats into the ring, and one of them could eventually emerge as an overwhelming favorite.

But if Durant can stay on this torrid pace and lead the Nets to a high seed in the East, his MVP case will be impossible to ignore, and the offseason drama will feel like nothing but a distant memory.


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