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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Placing Kevin Durant's Incredible Scoring Streak in Historical Perspective

When a player does something great it is not only enjoyable to watch but his accomplishment also serves as a reminder of just how tremendous some of his predecessors were. One of my favorite sportswriting passages is William Goldman's take on Wilt Chamberlain's incredible records, which I discussed in a 2006 article about one of Kobe Bryant's scoring barrages:

Goldman wrote of Chamberlain, who still had offers to play in the NBA when he was in his early 50s, "the news finds him. Either when some team wants him to come back and play for them...or whenever a record is talked of." (the ellipses are present in the original text). Goldman continued, "During Michael Jordan's amazing '86-'87, Wilt was always in the papers because Jordan was always scoring the most this's since Wilt Chamberlain or taking the most that's since Wilt Chamberlain. And that ain't gonna change, folks. Not in this century. Take big-scoring games, for example. Michael Jordan hit 60 points, twice last year. In the eighties, only two other men have done it, each once: Bernard King and Larry Bird. Four times this decade. Seven other guys did it once: Fulks (the first), Mikan, Gervin, West, Barry, Maravich and David 'oh-what-a-fall-was-there-' Thompson. Elgin Baylor did it thrice. And Wilt? Well, it's been done 46 times so you subtract. Wilt: 32. The rest of basketball: 14. At the present rate, we will be well into the twenty-first century before the NBA catches up."

Kevin Durant is averaging 37.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 5.9 apg in 11 January games while shooting .522 from the field, including .392 from three point range. He is also shooting .884 from the free throw line while attempting 12.5 free throws per game. Durant may very well seize the title of "best player in the NBA" from LeBron James, who has worn that crown since 2009--and yet Durant's amazing scoring streak does not yet quite measure up to Bryant's best scoring streaks, let alone the unparalleled numbers posted by Chamberlain.

Bryant averaged 43.4 ppg in 13 games in January 2006, the highest scoring calendar month by an NBA player since Chamberlain averaged 45.8 ppg in March 1963. Bryant's total included an 81 point outburst versus the Toronto Raptors, the second best single game scoring performance in NBA history behind only Chamberlain's legendary 100 point game. Bryant also averaged more than 40 ppg in February 2003 (40.6 ppg), when he had nine straight 40-plus point games, the fourth longest such streak in NBA history; in comparison, Durant's current run features eight straight games with at least 30 points but "only" four games of at least 40 points. Subsequently, Bryant averaged more than 40 ppg in two other calendar months: 41.6 ppg in April 2006 and 40.4 ppg in March 2007. Chamberlain, who authored 11 calendar months during which he averaged at least 40 ppg, is the only player other than Bryant to accomplish this more than once.

Durant is performing extremely well and he deserves full credit for shouldering such a huge load for the Oklahoma City Thunder while Russell Westbrook is out with an injury but the fact that Durant can perform at a higher level than LeBron James--at least for a short period of time--and still not quite match the scoring exploits of Chamberlain and Bryant is a timely reminder of just how great Chamberlain and Bryant were in their respective primes.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:21 PM



At Wednesday, January 22, 2014 7:52:00 PM, Anonymous AW said...

Durant has been amazing. He just might win league mvp this year

LeBron is still considered the best player in the league. But mvp award doesn't always have to goto the leagues best player. Theres always other players worthy of it.

Some people felt that Charles Barkley and Karl Malone shouldn'thave won mvp over Michael Jordan during those seasons. Yes, Jordan was the best in the league but those two guys had great seasons and were mvp worthy in their own right.

Speaking of mvp type players; do you helieve Paul George to be a mvp level player?

At Thursday, January 23, 2014 12:07:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that in any given season there are generally a handful of players who perform at an MVP level--but I think that MJ should have won those MVPs over Barkley and Malone and, barring some dramatic change, I would still take James over Durant.

George has taken a step up from All-Star level to All-NBA First or Second Team level, though I don't see how he can make the First Team right now with James and Durant playing as well as they are. George is playing at an MVP caliber level but I would not take him over either of those guys right now.

At Thursday, January 23, 2014 3:55:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

The reason I ask your opinion on Paul George because every year some new player or players get hype for mvp talk. I believe I heard Lamarcus Aldridge name in mvp talks because of the Blazers seeding position in the western conference. I don't believe he'sa mvp type player. Just the best player on a talented team. I felt the same about Paul George but it seems I may be wrong. This just shows how almost any player can get thrown into the spotlight with certain events that take place.

Durant may win league mvp this year. But I would also take LeBron for at least the next three years barring injury.

I still believe LeBron can win one more mvp.

At Thursday, January 23, 2014 9:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with your original contention that in any given year there are a handful of players who perform at an MVP level. George is doing so this year--in terms of his all-around contributions as a scorer, rebounder, defender and secondary playmaker--but I would not rank him ahead of James and Durant.

Barkley and Malone played at an MVP level in their MVP seasons, though I would not have ranked either of them ahead of MJ in those respective seasons.

James, barring injury, will be an MVP candidate several more times but he may run into the same voter fatigue that resulted in Barkley and Malone winning MVPs while MJ was still at or near the very top of his game.

At Thursday, January 23, 2014 10:33:00 PM, Anonymous Eric said...


Thank you for this. I was waiting for your intake on Durant's scorching streak; I had also looked up Kobe's game logs in his prime seasons and was astounded especially from his January '06 campaign.

This type of insight into historical perspective should be done by the mainstream media, but it's a damn shame that it's not.

Will you be providing your thoughts on the All-Star starters or the whole team when the coaches select the reserves?

At Friday, January 24, 2014 12:52:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I will do an All-Star Game themed post soon but I have not decided on the exact timing/content.

At Friday, January 24, 2014 10:44:00 AM, Blogger D. Mike S said...

Interesting in none of the comments on the article is, the main subject- Wilt Chamberlain- mentioned. Proves William Goldman was right- it is a fight to the death(and beyond) for great athletes to be remembered.
If it was so much easier for Wilt because of the era he played (not true- I have a large collection of footage) then whey didn't any one else come CLOSE?
Every player competes in the time he grew up/lives in. If Wilt lived today the training, competition, and what passes for normal and great would be very different and his experience from grade school on would be in line with his peers. The point is how FAR he looms over everyone of his era (who grew up with that era's perspectives) and still with better athletes, no one else (including LeBron, KD, Koby) looms over their peers nor can match Wilt's numbers.
I also hear someone like Bill Simmons (whose book I loved, by the way) say "What if Dwight Howard played against WIlt's competition'? What would his numbers be?"
First of all, like Wilt, Dwight grows up and learns the game and develops his own levels of ambition and determination in his own time but aside from that, today if Dwight (or anyone else) COULD score ( and rebound, and block shots) at Wilt's clip- they would not have the energy to play 48 minutes a game and do it for a whole season(s). Think of the stamina and energy it takes to score at that clip EVERY NIGHT and play 48 minutes! Coaches now would take guys out and rest them if they had a big 32 minutes. The same season Wilt scored 50 a game he averaged 25 rebounds a game and ??? blocks.
What if Wilt played today? Again, he would have developed skills compared to his peers but my guess is he wouldn't put up the numbers he did because the superior athleticism has helped defense more than offense, I think but...he still faced Bill Russell 13 times a season in the regular season.

Mike S

At Friday, January 24, 2014 1:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you take into account Durant's (I think significantly) better efficiency when compared to Kobe's? Kobe had a weaker supporting cast but I don't know if his somewhat weaker stats are negligible in this comparison.

At Friday, January 24, 2014 5:04:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Kobe averaged at least 40 ppg in four different calendar months. Here are his stats from those months:

February 2003: 40.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.6 apg, .472 FG%, .429 3FG%, .846 FT%, .583 TS%

January 2006: 43.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.1 apg, .470 FG%, .391 3FG%, .897 FT%, .611 TS%

April 2006: 41.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.6 apg, .509 FG%, .413 3FG%, .824 FT%, .621 TS%

March 2007: 40.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 4.5 apg, .459 FG%, .372 3FG%, .865 FT%, .575 TS%

Durant's January 2014 numbers so far are 36.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 5.8 apg, .524 FG%, .397 3FG%, .886 FT%, .661 TS%

Durant is a very efficient scorer, particularly from two point range--keep in mind that he is a forward, while Bryant is a shooting guard--but in the scoring runs under consideration Bryant averaged significantly more ppg and during three of Bryant's four 40 ppg months his supporting cast was horrible, with the likes of Smush Parker, Kwame Brown and Luke Walton receiving significant playing time.

At Wednesday, January 29, 2014 3:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Mike S. for daring to remember the past. It seems that ESPN and the sportswriters and fans that grew up with it, believe that nothing of consequence happended in sports before 1979. Wilt played his last game over 40 years ago. He's been dead for over 15 and he still owns the reord book.


At Friday, February 07, 2014 9:31:00 PM, Blogger Jay said...

The biggest difference is that Durant only needed 20 to 25 shots to score 40, Bryant needed 30 to 40 shots, sometimes more to score 40.

At Saturday, February 08, 2014 3:22:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Kobe Bryant has scored 40 or more points in 120 regular season games. He had 40 or more FGAs in eight of those games. In one of those eight he scored 81 points--the second highest single game total ever--on 28-46 field goal shooting. In five of those eight games he scored at least 48 points and in seven of those eight games he had more points than field goal attempts.

In an additional 47 of Bryant's 120 regular season 40 point games, Bryant attempted between 30 and 39 field goals.

In other words, Bryant had fewer than 30 field goal attempts in more than half of his 40 point games--and he has amassed more 40 point games than every player in ABA/NBA history except for Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan.


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