Kevin Durant is out indefinitely with a sprained MCL in his left knee. While that may not derail his chance to win his fifth career scoring title, the injury likely spells the end of his campaign for a second NBA MVP award. The Brooklyn Nets are a half-game behind the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference. Durant’s return has no timetable.
The 33-year-old leads the NBA, scoring 29.3 points per game. He last scored at that pace when he led the league with a 32.0 average for the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2013–14. Besides individual honors, the injury is also a lost opportunity for Brooklyn’s Big Three of Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden to play together.
The prognosis for Kevin Durant is murky
The Brooklyn Nets are notoriously tight-lipped about injuries. Officially, the word from the team is that Kevin Durant “is expected to return to full strength following a period of rehabilitation.” In other words, he will not play until he does.
However, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported the Nets anticipate Durant missing four to six weeks. Six weeks is Feb. 26, when Brooklyn visits the Milwaukee Bucks. The Nets host the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 28.
He would miss 18 or 19 games on that timetable, pushing his total missed this season to 24 or 25. The two-time All-Star Game MVP sat out three games for rest and missed three in December in the NBA health and safety protocols.
Missing that much time threatens the scoring title. From 1974–2013, the NBA standard for winning the scoring title was 70 games played or 1,400 points scored. But in 2013, the standard changed to 58 games played.
If Durant returns against the Bucks, he’d be at 24 missed games, the maximum to still win the scoring championship. Otherwise, a fifth scoring title is out of reach this season.
As for the MVP award, Kevin Durant is probably already finished
Since the NBA first awarded the MVP in 1955–56, only three winners have missed 10 or more games. Just one, Bill Walton of the Portland Trail Blazers in 1977–78, was out for more than 20 contests.
The most games an MVP missed since the NBA media took over the voting in 1980 is 11, by Allen Iverson in 2000–01. The only other MVP to miss double-digit games was in 2019–20. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks played in 63 of Milwaukee’s 73 games in the pandemic-shortened campaign.
That likely means that Kevin Durant won’t be the first player in the history of the Brooklyn Nets franchise to win the NBA MVP Award.
Nikola Jokić of the Denver Nuggets is the reigning MVP and is singlehandedly keeping the battered Nuggets afloat this season. For followers of analytics, Jokić is on pace for the highest Player Efficiency Rating in NBA history (currently 32.2, with an average player expected to record a PER of 15.0).
Other contenders include Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers, DeMar DeRozan of the Chicago Bulls, and the ever-present Antetokounmpo.
Durant’s injury can’t help the Brooklyn Nets
It’s a little-known truth in sports: When a team loses its best player, it usually doesn’t play as well.
That’s what the Brooklyn Nets face with Kevin Durant sidelined. Last season, he returned from missing the 2019–20 season recovering from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. Thigh and hamstring injuries sidelined him for 37 of Brooklyn’s 72 games. The Nets were 25–12 without the former Texas Longhorn and 23–12 with him.
But this season, the Nets are 24–12 when Durant plays and 3–4 when he does not. That includes their 114–107 loss at Cleveland on Jan. 17.
According to Nick Friedell of ESPN, coach Steve Nash said the team can’t bemoan its fate.
“We can’t cry about it,” Nash said. “We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. [Instead we have] to keep building, see what we can learn, how we can grow during this period of Kevin being our and Joe [Harris] being out, and how we can continue to move this thing forward so when they do come back, we’re in a better place — and he can rejoin us in a place where we can feel better about where we are in that part of the season.”
That was a lot of word salad from Nash. It boils down to the basic message of “next man up.” The Nets only have Irving for road games (except in New York and Toronto). That leaves Harden in the position of carrying the team for the next month or so.
It’s unfortunate for Kevin Durant that his brilliant season is interrupted. The challenge for the Brooklyn Nets is to avoid letting the injury derail their championship aspirations.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.