Kevin Durant Moves into Top 10 on NBA’s All-Time Scoring List

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 1, 2023; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant (35) reacts against the Denver Nuggets in the second half at Footprint Center.

Kevin Durant took a pass on the right wing, drove hard to the baseline and banked in a running layup to enter the top 10 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list Friday as the Phoenix Suns star surpassed Hall of Fame center Moses Malone’s 27,409 points.

The 35-year-old forward, who has played 1,003 games in his 16-year career, entered Friday’s game against the Denver Nuggets at the Footprint Center in Phoenix needing 17 points to move past Malone. Durant wasted little time with star teammates Devin Booker and Bradley Beal sidelined by injuries, scoring 12 points in the first quarter and making a pull-up jumper late in the second quarter to tie Malone. The 13-time all-star then reached 27,411 points with his layup less than a minute before halftime.

Though Durant finished with 30 points, four rebounds and 11 assists, he shot 0 for 10 in the second half and Denver claimed a 119-111 road win. Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 21 points, five rebounds and 16 assists.

“It’s cool,” Durant said. “It’s a long journey to be up there to be mentioned with the greats. It takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of preparation and a lot of people to help you get to that point. I’m grateful and thinking about the people who helped me get to this point: all my teammates, coaches, family, and friends that invested [in] me since I was a kid. All of this stuff is cool to do and shows you I’m getting old in this league, as well. It’s amazing to be among the greats. . . . I’ve been hearing about [the milestone] all day. I heard it [announced] in the arena as soon as it happened. I’m just grateful to still be playing the game I love.”

Durant ranks second among active players in total points behind Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, who became the NBA’s all-time leading scorer last season. James saluted Durant’s milestone on social media.

Though Durant’s run up the scoring ladder has been slowed by his 2019 Achilles’ tear and subsequent injuries, he has nevertheless remained one of the most prolific and consistent scorers in league history. Entering the 2023-24 season, Durant had averaged at least 25.0 points in 14 straight seasons, an accomplishment topped only by James’s 19 such seasons. He has also registered two 50-40-90 shooting seasons (50 percent on field goals, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line), joining Steve Nash (four) and Larry Bird (two) as the only players to do so multiple times.

After a prolific one-and-done season at the University of Texas, Durant was selected by the Seattle SuperSonics with the second pick in the 2007 draft. Though he endured a somewhat rocky 2007-08 rookie of the year campaign as a teenager, Durant emerged as one of the NBA’s top scorers as soon as the SuperSonics relocated to Oklahoma City and rebranded as the Thunder in 2008. He proceeded to claim four scoring titles across a five-year span with the Thunder while leading the NBA in total points every season from 2009-10 to 2013-14. Durant, who became the second-youngest player (after James) to reach 10,000 career points at age 24 in 2012, averaged a career-high 32.0 points to win 2014 MVP honors.

A foot injury during the 2014-15 season and a 2016 move to the Golden State Warriors slowed Durant’s scoring pace somewhat, though he won two championships and two Finals MVPs during his three-year stint in the Bay Area.

The Achilles’ tear, which occurred during the 2019 Finals, probably cost Durant his shot at catching James as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. After missing the entire 2019-20 season to rehabilitate the injury, Durant has averaged only 46 games played over his past three full seasons because of various injuries. In the 12 seasons before his Achilles’ injury, Durant averaged 1,912 points per season. In his three full seasons since the injury, he slipped to 1,317 points per season.

When healthy, though, he has remained one of the league’s most effective all-around scorers, ranking second at 31.3 points per game this season. Durant’s career scoring average of 27.3 points trails only Michael Jordan (30.1) and Wilt Chamberlain (30.1) among players with at least 1,000 games played.

“What a unique talent,” Nuggets Coach Michael Malone said during his pregame news conference. “When you look at the size, the length, the skill, the shooting and just the ability to get his own shot – [being able to] raise up and shoot over you whenever he wants has always stood out. The one thing that I admire about him: He’s done it his own way. He hasn’t tried to be anybody other than Kevin Durant and I think there’s a lot to be said for that. When young players come in the league, everybody wants to say that he’s the ‘Next [Somebody].’ Kevin Durant was never the next anybody. He was the first Kevin Durant and you have to respect that about him.”

Moses Malone entered the NBA in 1976 after playing two seasons in the ABA. A three-time MVP and 13-time all-star who won a title with the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers, Malone retired in 1995 with a 20.6 career scoring average in 1,329 games over 19 NBA seasons. The NBA does not count Malone’s 2,171 points in the ABA in its record books, leaving his career tally at 27,409 rather than 29,580.

“I try to get to know the players from the past,” Durant said. “YouTube has been such a valuable asset to people. You can always go back and relive those moments. As basketball players, I think it’s our job to go back and know the history of the game and know who paved the way for us to be who we are today. I always respected Moses as somebody who doesn’t get the credit he deserves being a dominant, dominant player in this league for a while and a champion. He was the best player in the league at some point but doesn’t have that narrative around him or the hoopla around him as a player. I’m grateful to be in the same conversation with him.”

Durant has a chance to make significant progress up the NBA’s scoring list before his contract expires after the 2025-26 season. This season, he could catch Carmelo Anthony (28,289) for ninth and Shaquille O’Neal (28,596) for eighth.

With good health, Durant could then pass Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) for seventh and Dirk Nowitzki (31,560) for sixth by the end of the 2024-25 season. If Durant can average 27 points and play an average of 61 games per season through the end of his contract, he could surpass Jordan (32,292) to move into the top five by the end of the 2025-26 season.

As with the ageless James, Durant has remained a top-10 player in the league deep into his 30s and benefited from the modern NBA’s pace-and-space style, which has led to an offensive boom. If he can maintain something close to his current scoring and availability rates, Durant could move past Kobe Bryant (33,643) for fourth if he signed another contract following the 2025-26 season, but challenging Karl Malone (36,928) for third could require Durant to keep playing well after his 40th birthday.

While Durant’s scoring achievements have often been overshadowed by James, it’s worth noting that no other active players rank in the top 20 for career points. James Harden (24th with 24,892) and Stephen Curry (34th with 22,213) are the two most likely candidates to make a run at the top 10 over the next few years.