Why Kevin Durant is not the greatest scorer in NBA history

Kevin Durant
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Kevin Durant is many things — a scoring champion, an MVP, a finals MVP and a future Hall of Famer. What is he not? The greatest scorer of all time.

Durant has no reason to be included in “greatest scorer of all time” conversations, yet people (including his former teammate Kendrick Perkins) keep bringing him into them. Here are some reasons why Durant’s scoring ability is overrated.

 

Points per game

The most basic stat used to analyze scoring in basketball is points per game, or ppg. In this category, Durant ranks sixth of all time. In the playoffs, he is fourth of all time. These rankings sound like they go against my argument, but one thing to take into consideration is that most of the players in the rankings are retired — so their stats dropped as they regressed from their peak performance. Durant is not yet retired and is still progressing, so we need to take a look at players’ scoring primes in order to accurately compare them.

Let’s define a player’s scoring prime as the years in between their first and last seasons averaging at least 27.02 ppg. I’m using the number 27.02 because it’s the lowest career average out of the top six players ranked.

Durant averages 28.9 ppg in his prime. That would rank him fifth out of these six players, landing only ahead of LeBron James. Wilt Chamberlain’s career prime ranks first at an astounding 39.6 ppg, followed by Michael Jordan and Elgin Baylor, who each top 31 ppg.

You’d think with how often he is regarded as the best scorer ever, he would at least be in the top two or three in these categories. Interestingly enough, he’s not even close to first in all-time ppg, ppg in the playoffs or ppg according to my scale.

 

Efficiency

One way KD fans will try to justify his lower ppg rankings is by claiming that he is the most efficient high-volume scorer ever.

Depending on what efficiency stat you look at, this may be true. Out of the top six players in career ppg (Jordan, Chamberlain, Baylor, James, Jerry West and Durant), Durant is first in effective field goal percentage by less than 0.02% more than James and Chamberlain. He’s also first in true shooting percentage by 2.7%. However, when looking at overall field goal percentage, Durant ranks fourth. So yes, Durant has the efficiency argument, but does that slight lead in efficiency make up for the gap between his volume and those of Chamberlain and Jordan? I don’t think so.

 

High-scoring games

Another way to measure scoring is by how many high-scoring games a player has had. Durant has had 299 career games during which he scored more than 30 points. This sounds like a lot, but Durant has played 12 seasons and only ranks 12th in high-scoring games.

How about 40 or 50-point games through 12 seasons? He ranks 13th in 40-point games and 14th in 50-point games. Strange that the alleged “greatest scorer ever” is not even in the top 10 in these categories.

You might be wondering why I didn’t mention 55 or 60-point games. That would be because he has none. His career high is 54. For reference, Chamberlain, the all-time leader in most scoring categories, has 72 such instances. James Harden, in the 2020 season alone, scored more than 55 points three times.

 

Scoring titles

Durant has won four scoring titles in his career, tied with several other players for third of all time, far behind — you guessed it — Jordan and Chamberlain. However, Durant has won with some of the lowest ppg stats in NBA history. Two of his scoring titles were won while averaging less than 28.1 ppg, with some of the lowest scoring stats to win a title in the past 60 years. 

 

Versatility

The most overused pro-Durant argument is that he is the most versatile scorer because he is elite from inside the paint, midrange, the 3-point range and the free-throw line. I’ll agree with the KD fans on this one. Durant is without a doubt the most versatile scorer to play the game of basketball. But does that mean he is the best scorer? No. Versatility is a good argument to use when the numbers in production are similar, such as Durant versus LeBron. But Jordan and Chamberlain are so far ahead in every category that Durant’s versatility becomes a moot point.

Sorry, Bay Area fans, but contrary to your popular belief, Durant is definitely not the greatest scorer in NBA history.

Tom Aizenberg covers women’s swim and dive. Contact him at [email protected].