Placing Kevin Durant's Incredible Scoring Streak in Historical PerspectiveWhen 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.
posted by David Friedman @ 7:21 PM