Kevin Durant’s Place in History at Age 21 Season 3

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Since dominating the World Championships in Turkey, Kevin Durant has become the darling of the NBA offseason. Why shouldn’t he be? He’s an amazing player. His unique, lanky figure gives him an iconic look not seen before in a superstar (except on the catwalk maybe. I wonder if Durant would be up for a walkoff?). Kobe is still unlikable to non-NBA junkies / LA natives for any number of reasons. Previous golden boy LeBron is in the basketball dog house for any number of reasons. It’s Durant’s time to shine.

The Sportsguy published an after-the-fact game diary of the gold medal game as a not-so-subtle excuse to sing KD’s praises. Durant is getting a lot of love, and I’m all for it, so now seems like a good time to look at how his breakout 3rd season stands up historically.

Top 5 21 Year Olds by Win Share since 1980

1. Shaquille O’Neal (2nd Year) WS = 16.9
2. LeBron James (3rd Year) WS = 16.3
3. Kevin Durant (3rd Year) WS = 16.1
4. Michael Jordan (1st Year) WS = 14.0
5. Tim Duncan (1st Year) WS = 12.8

Not a bad list to make. If you’re wondering PER gives the exact same list in the exact same order except that Magic Johnson replaces Tim Duncan in 5th position. Of course limiting the list by age gives the LeBronian youth of this generation an advantage. Back in the day more players went to school for three or four years. Larry Bird and David Robinson, two of the most impactful rookies ever in terms of team turn-arounds, weren’t even in the league at age 21. So let’s see how Durant stacks up to other third year players.

Top 5 3rd Year Players by Win Share since 1980

1. Chris Paul (Age 22) WS = 17.8
2. Michael Jordan (Age 23) WS = 16.9
3. LeBron James (Age 21) WS = 16.3
4. Kevin Durant (Age 21) WS = 16.1
5. Grant Hill (Age 24) WS = 14.6

Another nice batch of players to join. Surprised to see the Dukie Hill on that list? Don’t be. Prior to his ankle decomposing at the end of his leg, Grant was one of the greats. By the numbers he’s the best small forward of the late ’90s, eclipsing Scottie Pippen and everyone else. The PER shifts a little more dramatically for this group, so let’s look at the actual numerical breakdown through 10 since the Durantula misses top 5 in this one.

Top 10 3rd Year Players by PER since 1980

1. Michael Jordan (Age 23) PER = 29.8
2. Shaquille O’Neal (Age 22) PER = 28.6
3. Chris Paul (Age 22) PER = 28.3
4. LeBron James (Age 21) PER = 28.1
5. Dwyane Wade (Age 24) PER = 27.6
6. David Robinson (Age 26) PER = 27.5
7. Amare Stoudemire (Age 22) PER = 26.6
8. Kevin Durant (Age 21) PER = 26.2
9. Grant Hill (Age 24) PER = 25.5
10. Charles Barkley (Age 23) PER = 25.1

KD slides down to a measly 8th place here, but still sports a PER over 25 and outranks a whole lot of great, great players.

I’m impressed by the results we’re showing overall. These are MVP candidates we’re seeing above and below Durant on all these lists. I don’t believe it’s possible to make accurate projections based on player age. People were hyperventilating over Bryant in 1999 because he was better at 19 than Jordan was at 19, therefore he would project to be better than Jordan at 29. It didn’t work out that way. Same with LeBron. However, most players peak statistically between 25 and 27, and Durant is spectacular at 21. He seems to be on a pace to keep his name up there with LeBron, Shaq, Duncan, and Jordan. That’s the kind of company you want to keep. Unless you’re from Cleveland. Then that is like hanging out with the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

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