50/40/90: Kevin Durant's shooting exploits

50/40/90: Kevin Durant's shooting exploits
September 24, 2013, 2:00 pm
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Mark Strotman

Kevin Durant hasn't yet won an NBA championship or an MVP -- though Bulls Insider Aggrey Sam believes 2013-14 is the year he'll do the latter -- but last year he did join the prestigious 50/40/90 Club, arguably the most relevant standard one can reach to determine some of the league's best shooters. Its landmarks are simple: shoot 50 percent or better from the field, 40 percent or better on 3-point field goals and 90 percent or better from the free throw line, all while reaching the minimum number of attempts in each category.

Durant had reached the 3-point mark in 2009 and the free-throw mark in 2010, but last season he left no room for argument as the best shooter in the league, shooting 51 percent from the field, making 41.6 percent of his 3-pointers and shooting a career-best 90.5 percent from the line. His magnificent offensive season helped Oklahoma City to a franchise-best 60 wins, and had it not been for Russell Westbrook's knee injury the Thunder would have been the favorites to repeat as Western Conference champs.

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Six players have reached the 50/40/90 Club, with Larry Bird doing so twice and Steve Nash accomplishing the feat four times in a five-year span. The others to reach the mark were Mark Price, Reggie Miller and Dirk Nowitzki, so Durant is already in some pretty exclusive company among the all-time best shooters in league history.

But this season he'll have the chance to join Bird and Nash as the third player to accomplish the feat in back-to-back seasons. Here's how both Bird and Nash performed in their first 50/40/90 season, and what they did the following season. (Note: Nash joined the club in 2005-06, but his first back-to-back numbers came in 2007-08 and 2008-09)

Player FG% 3FG% FT%
Larry Bird (86-87) 52.5% 40.0% 91.0%
Larry Bird (87-88) 52.7% 41.4% 91.6%
Steve Nash (07-08) 50.4% 47.0% 90.6%
Steve Nash (08-09) 50.3% 43.9% 93.3%
Kevin Durant (12-13) 51.0% 41.6% 90.5%
Kevin Durant (13-14) ?? ?? ??

It's interesting to note that Bird and Nash put together these shooting seasons over the age of 30 (Bird was 30 and 31; Nash was 33 and 34). It makes sense, seeing as players get older they tend to shoot more often and drive to the basket less. Their total  shot attempts, generally, go down, helping averages improve. But that won't be the case with Durant.

At 24 years old, he'll be called upon to shoot between 16 and 20 times per game, sometimes more, and while he's among the league leaders in free throws attempted every year, his aggressiveness makes it such that he's far more than just a solid outside shooter who makes his free throws when he gets there. He can score in a variety of ways and isn't afraid to take a difficult shot when the situation calls for it. It just so happens that, more often and not, he makes those.

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What may be different in 2013-14 for Durant is how the shooting guard position plays out in Oklahoma City. Free agent Kevin Martin signed with the Timberwolves and general manager Sam Presti, who has built the Thunder via the NBA draft, opted not to pay for a free agent to replace Martin, who averaged 14.0 points on 45 percent shooting.

Taking his place is Jeremy Lamb, an accomplished collegiate player who the Thunder received -- along with Martin -- as part of the James Harden trade. Lamb is a bit of an unknown, having only 68 career field-goal attempts and 147 minutes under his belt. Chances are Lamb won't match Martin's production from a year ago, and with Westbrook still recovering from the aforementioned knee injury that knocked him out of the playoffs, Durant will be asked to shoot more this season -- last year his 17.7 field goal attempts per game were the least he had averaged since his rookie season (17.1); that won't be the case.

He's been in the league six seasons, but Durant's potential has hardly been tapped into. His assist numbers have improved the last three seasons as he becomes more of an all-around player, and last year his 5.3 Defensive Win Shares were by far his best as a pro.