Kevin Durant silenced a hater who said that LeBron James is better than him, and he’s the only player who’s in that conversation.
Until further notice, LeBron James is the NBA’s best player, right above Kevin Durant. On KD’s YouTube, commenter Joe Deezy went and said what most of us already believe, “LeBron is better than you it’s just fax.”
“Nah,” replied Durant.
After seeing the two MVPs trade blows during the NBA Finals, it’s clear that they’re atop anyone’s basketball rankings. James may be first, but Durant is a close second, and there’s a legitimate chance he takes that crown sooner than later. Say what you will about KD’s decision to join the Golden State Warriors, but it’s irrefutable to say he didn’t have one of the best campaigns of his career. The 28-year-old shot the lights out with help from the Warriors’ unstoppable offense, averaging 25.1 points with a true shooting clip of 65.1 percent.
Not only that, he set a career-high with 8.3 rebounds and showcased elite defense on a consistent basis, something that we didn’t see much in Oklahoma City. Durant’s 1.6 blocks were also a new best for him, and he was able to play aggressively because Golden State had the best defense in the league.
As incredible as Durant was during the regular season, LeBron, who’s 32, had the edge in points (26.4), assists (8.7) and rebounds (8.6) while also being radically efficient (61.9 percent true shooting). I don’t want to say it was a fluke that James put up more points than Durant because both are great scorers, but Durant didn’t have to be “the guy” each possession for the first time in his career, and he was more than happy to share the rock with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.
James had to do a lot this season to keep the Cavaliers afloat, but that’s something we’ve grown to expect. On top of the scoring, LeBron had his typical point guard duties. That’s not a surprise. He’s always been a better passer than Durant.
The Internet isn’t up in arms over what Durant said for two reasons:
- Just based on numbers and performance, he’s the only other player who can make that statement without looking crazy. James tantalized us while we got bored with the Warriors dominance. Throughout the regular season, LeBron was the clear-cut number one. After the playoffs, Durant turned it into a topic worth debating.
- No basketball player (actually, anybody who’s great at their profession) is going to think someone’s better than them. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jae Crowder said he’s better than LeBron James. Would he be right? No, but it’s necessary to have that mentality at times.
Let’s digress back to the first reason. Not many were having this argument before the Finals. When you compare the numbers from the playoffs in their entirety, James has the edge. He scored more than Durant (32.8 to 28.5), rebounded more (9.1 to 7.9), handed out more assists (7.8 to 4.3) and made more of an impact on defense (4.2 DBPM to 0.9). He also shot better from the field (56.5 to 55.6 percent) and played more minutes (41.3 to 35.5), which led to fatigue that reared its ugly head late in games. Remember, both teams walked to the Finals. Golden State did it as a team. Cleveland did it on the shoulders of James and Kyrie Irving.
Once the two met on the biggest stage, Durant separated himself from his teammates and took control. The scoring numbers were outrageous (35.2) and his slash line is just as gaudy — 55.6/47.4/92.7. Since 1964, Robert Horry (2001) and Mario Elie (1995) are the only other players to have percentages like that while playing more than 100 minutes in the Finals. Neither came close to Durant’s volume; they combined to shoot just 62 field goals in their respective series. KD launched 108 in the 2017 Finals.
Every time the future Finals MVP did something jaw-dropping, he came back and something better right after you put your tongue back in your mouth. And he did it with consistency over the five games. The most memorable came at the end of game three. Golden State was down two with 45 seconds left on the clock when Durant dribbled up, set his feet and launched the go-ahead triple over the outstretched arm of LeBron. It was a crowd killer.
It’s impossible to downplay that shot, but no one on the Warriors was the best player on the floor that night. James was. His 39-point, 11-rebound, 9-assist performance eclipsed the lines of everyone else who got playing time — but Durant still managed to steal the spotlight. That’s not an easy feat when the second-best player of all time is matched up across from you. And that deserves respect.
Was it easier to win a title with four other All-Stars? Of course. However, no matter what team Durant was on, he would’ve put up huge numbers. If anything, this debate would’ve intensified because putting KD on a lesser team creates a more competitive series, and the two megastars would’ve had more clutch moments against each other.
Even with having a tremendous scoring load, Durant left his fingerprints everywhere. He continued to defend at a high level. He was also a terror on the glass and finished second to Green with 41 total boards. Most importantly, though, was his decision-making. Durant just made the easy play. Scoring comes so naturally to him, and it looked like that God-given ability infiltrated his brain and rose his basketball IQ. In six prior postseason appearances, only once had Durant posted an assist percentage above 20; that was back in 2013 when he averaged 6.3 dimes a game. In this past Finals, he helped on 22.8 percent of his teammates’ field goals. His turnover percentage was just 8.0.
That evolution is noteworthy. Back in 2012, Durant was an unstoppable scorer, and his 30.6 average pales in comparison to 2017. That same series, he committed 19 turnovers while handing out 11 assists. I understand both teams have different structures, but it still falls on the player to make the proper read; Durant could’ve settled for tough shots instead of giving the ball up. Also, he was much younger. It’s clear he’s learned.
His newly-showcased versatility lets us evaluate him differently. Now, Durant is an all-around superstar instead of just a scorer who does other things from time to time. The Finals this year proved that, and it shell-shocked us enough that it overshadowed LeBron James averaging triple-double.
Being in the conversation is the foundation that Kevin Durant needs. How he surpasses LeBron is a different beast. The Slim Reaper will need to continue this dominating stretch — which he’s more than capable of doing — for a few more campaigns. In September, Durant will be 29, and he’s easily got three more years of his prime. James is going to slow down eventually. As bionic as he looks, Father Time is undefeated. Once James does start to regress, that’s Durant’s opportunity to strike.
I feel like James, should he leave the Cavaliers, will look to join a team that won’t need much from him during the regular season. He’ll voluntarily take a step back until his the squad needs it, and that’ll likely come in the postseason, and it’s even more likely it’ll come against Golden State. Then, the conversation takes a different angle.
For argument’s sake, imagine James stays in Cleveland. I doubt they’re winning another title, but LeBron and Durant are going to put up incredible numbers that are similar to what they just did. If KD outplays James even a little bit and the Warriors win again, he’ll be crowned the league’s best because he led the NBA’s best team to a title. Contrarily, if LeBron goes out and averages another triple-double with a roster similar to what he has now, I don’t see the majority placing Durant above James. What adds another intriguing wrinkle is if the Los Angeles Lakers can court LeBron to Hollywood. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka are working tirelessly to shed cap space to sign two stars, with James (hopefully) being the headliner. Surround him with Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Paul George or Russell Westbrook, and boom — the Lakers, on paper, can matchup with the Warriors.
Talent-wise, Golden State is better. However, the disparity isn’t close to what it is between them and Cleveland. Since the playing field would be closer to level, we can judge James and Durant on their play almost exclusively. Both guys would have multiple cannons on their side, and that would inflate their stats while also allowing them to play toward their strengths.
If (when) the time comes, the next question we’d ask about Durant is his longevity. How long would we call him the NBA’s best? I wrote something on this a couple of months ago, and my picks as James’ heir were Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo. KD didn’t make it because he wouldn’t have an extended run at the top like LeBron and both Leonard and Giannis are babies who haven’t even entered their primes yet. That conversation changes if it turns out that Durant and James are cut from the same longevity cloth.
We still have a couple of seasons left of these two going head-to-head. Enjoy them. This debate is only going to get better, and it’s never going to be as one-sided as it once was. Just like any other argument, each party is going to have people who vouch for them unconditionally — it’s vital to view things objectively and not be irrational. It’s okay if LeBron James is a better basketball player than Kevin Durant. It’s also okay if it’s the other way around.
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