0 of 5
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
After adjusting to a new city and new squad last season, Kevin Durant has used this summer to get reacquainted with some old friends.
Like the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, which he took home in 2013-14 and now holds the second-best odds of securing in 2017-18, per OddsShark. And his old running mate, Russell Westbrook, who snatched last season’s hardware amid a sea of triple-doubles and is viewed as the favorite to repeat.
But if Durant follows the upcoming steps, he could add a second trophy to his collection.
The ability is obviously there, a fact hammered home during his near-flawless MVP Finals performance. The opportunity should be too, although that’s dependent on both his health and what happens around him.
By examining past winners, Durant’s production and his primary rivals, we have uncovered his five-part plan to bring the NBA MVP award back home.
1 of 5
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
In order for Durant to play at an MVP level, he needs to be playing. As simple as this sounds, it might be the most important requirement.
Seventy-five games is sort of an arbitrary number, but history has mostly held it as the necessary threshold for MVP consideration. Only nine winners have ever played fewer contests, and seven of them are asterisked—five played before the league expanded to an 82-game slate in 1967-68, two others were selected during lockout-shortened years (Karl Malone in 1998-99, LeBron James in 2011-12).
Granted, that still leaves two sub-75-game MVP paths for Durant to conceivably follow. But both of those roads are essentially blocked.
Bill Walton played just 58 games in 1977-78, but his singular importance to the Portland Trail Blazers was overwhelming. Portland opened the year 50-10 before blundering to an 8-14 finish without its interior anchor. Walton led the club in points, rebounds, assists and blocks.
In 2000-01, Allen Iverson earned the honor in 71 outings. He was also the lone All-Star selection of the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers—34-year-old Dikembe Mutombo arrived at the trade deadline—and the Association’s leader in points, steals and minutes.
There’s way too much talent in Oakland for Durant to wield that level of influence. Just last season, Golden State went 16-4 without him.
In other words, his value is only clear when he’s wreaking two-way havoc inside the lines. If he can make 75-plus appearances—something he hasn’t done since 2013-14—he’ll put himself firmly in the running.
2 of 5
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Durant arrived in the Bay as a four-time scoring champ. He proceeded to post personal bests in field-goal (53.7) and true shooting (65.1) percentages.
But he wasn’t a top-five scorer. Not even a top-10. He tied for 12th at 25.1 points per game, putting him second on his own squad (Stephen Curry, 25.3).
That puts Durant in a bigger hole than one might think. Three of the last four MVPs were also scoring champs. The last winner to finish outside the top 10 was Dirk Nowitzki in 2006-07.
Durant won’t substantially improve his point production. For starters, there are too many other mouths to feed. Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were the only teammate trio to each rank among last season’s top 30 scorers.
Plus, Durant doesn’t get the same amount of floor time as his MVP competition. He averaged a career-low 33.4 minutes last season (34th overall), and he could see that number trimmed further following his second significant injury in three years.
Since he’s highly unlikely to win any volume categories, he must obliterate the field with efficiency. That’s what Nowitzki did with his 50/40/90 shooting slash, a feat duplicated during Steve Nash’s award-winning performance the season prior.
Durant has a 50/40/90 line on his resume, posted in 2012-13, a season prior to his MVP run. His Finals MVP effort suggests he could add another—35.2 points on .556/.474/.927 shooting. If he balances that with continued growth as a defender, distributor and rebounder, he could afford less-than-elite standings in some counting categories.
3 of 5
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
Turns out having a center’s length and guard’s quickness can be a boon on both ends of the floor.
Before he was a Warrior, Durant would flash his gargantuan defensive upside. He could protect the paint, seal off the perimeter and cycle through multiple assignments without missing a beat. But he couldn’t do all of those things for the entire game because it was too much to bear alongside his offensive responsibilities.
With Golden State, though, it’s easier to balance his two-way workload. He’s still perhaps the NBA’s most efficient scorer, only now he’s also a consistent stopper.
“You don’t want to drive on him, because even if you get a step on him, he can still recover and meet you at the rim with his athleticism,” Curry said, per ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan. “When you get into a one-on-one situation with him, it really does feel like there’s nowhere to go.”
In his first season with the Warriors, Durant shattered his previous highs in defensive boards (8.2) and blocks (1.7) per 36 minutes. He was a top-15 rim protector among high-volume bigs (48.6 percent shooting within five feet, 13th). Away from the basket, he sliced 6.0 points off his opponents’ three-point percentages.
Could those have been All-Defense credentials had he stayed healthy? They would have at least put him in the discussion. Even with his time missed, he garnered six votes.
If he can sustain that level over 75-plus outings, it might result in his first All-Defense nod and cut down his competition. Curry, James Harden and Russell Westbrook don’t exactly strengthen their arguments on that end of the floor.
4 of 5
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Four players received first-place votes for the 2016-17 MVP award. Only two topped double digits, and each has seen his volume production potentially taken away by a new All-Star running mate.
“Russell Westbrook put up ridiculous numbers on his way to the award last season, but now he is going to share the rock with Paul George,” NBC Sports’ Kurt Helin wrote. “James Harden made a legitimate case and would have won most seasons, but now he will have the ball in his hands less with Chris Paul running the show.”
While Westbrook was stampeding through his MVP campaign, the Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t have anyone else with higher than a 27.3 usage percentage. Among starters, the high mark was 21.4. George hasn’t had lower than a 28.3 in four years and has topped 30 during two of the last three.
The change could be more extreme with the new-look Houston Rockets. Harden just turned in his best effort to date after making a full-time move to point guard. Now, he’s joined by a player known as the “point god,” and both could see their on-ball time substantially sliced.
The same volume crunch that hit Durant last season could now impact some of his biggest competitors.
A determined LeBron is always an MVP threat, but maybe the 32-year-old coasts a bit with extra depth in Cleveland. Kawhi Leonard could be overlooked if a quieter-than-expected offseason sees the San Antonio Spurs slip. Kyrie Irving might get dinged for a lack of defense, while Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis struggle to find the requisite team success.
This doesn’t mean Durant can stumble into the award, but if his competitors’ chances decrease, his will do the opposite.
5 of 5
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Team success is a primary ingredient in any MVP recipe, but it works differently for Durant and the Dubs.
Their roster is so loaded it can work against him. Unless he’s able to help them win in historic and ridiculously spectacular fashion.
That doesn’t mean matching the 73 victories tallied by the 2015-16 iteration. But reaching 67 wins—which Golden State has done three consecutive seasons—might not be enough. Not when oddsmakers have set the over/under bar at 67.5, per OddsShark.
To be clear, that’s a mind-boggling number. Only 13 teams have ever reached 67 triumphs, and just six have finished with more.
What’s wilder, though, is how easy it is envisioning the 2017-18 Dubs notching at least 68 wins.
“This team is so talented, so deep and so obviously poised to improve its chemistry and late-game production that several things could go sideways and still not do enough damage to keep the win total under 70,” Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes wrote. “Do you really want to bet against a dynasty that hasn’t peaked yet? … Me neither.”
Having a full season in this system under his belt should only increase Durant’s effectiveness. Improved chemistry might also smooth out Golden State’s rough patches late in games (3-4 in contests decided by three points or less). Plus, the roster looks better on paper now than it did during their 16-1 playoff trek to the title.
All of these seemingly have the defending champs trending up, which is why any decline could be costly in the voters’ eyes.
Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball Reference or NBA.com.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.