Still the King? Comparing LeBron to Durant
February 5, 2014
In the last month, Kevin Durant has played in 19 games, and in 15 of those games, he scored more than 30 points. His team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, have the best record in the NBA.
So what do you think? After the month Kevin Durant just had, is LeBron James still the greatest active basketball player? Is he deserving of the MVP award that he currently holds?
My answer is actually yes and no. No, I don’t think Durant has overtaken LeBron as the greatest active basketball player. Yes, I think that if the MVP were given out right now, it would go to Durant.
Let’s start with the MVP award and move up to the big picture question of best player alive afterwards. Also, keep in mind we aren’t even two-thirds of the way through the season and there is a LOT of basketball left to be played; therefore, these predictions are to be treated with a large chunk of salt (just leaving myself an escape route if I end up being super wrong).
To start with the MVP talk, one basically has to make a case AGAINST James before making a case for anyone else. Right now, LeBron’s scoring average is the worst it has been since his rookie season and his rebounding average hasn’t been this bad since 2007. He has blocked 13 shots on the season (67 last season) and has recorded just seven double-doubles to go with ZERO triple-doubles.
So there’s the case against LeBron. In contrast, Durant has his highest scoring average and assist average ever, and is shooting a career-high 51 percent from the field. He’s doing all of this on fewer minutes than he’s played since his rookie season, and he has put up most of these numbers in the absence of Russell Westbrook, who has not played since Christmas.
So I’d give the MVP to Durant. His numbers are flat out better than LeBron’s, even though both have been missing their best sidekick. The Thunder’s record is better than the Heat’s, who are 0-2 against Brooklyn and have dropped games against the likes of Boston, Philadelphia, Sacramento and Detroit. Not to mention that in their only head-to-head meeting, the Thunder beat the Heat by 18, throttling them on Miami’s home court.
So Durant gets the MVP (for now), but that only just starts the conversation about best current player. Unfortunately for fans from Boston, Chicago, Indiana, Oklahoma, etc., there really is no conversation. Until someone else in the conversation wins a title, LeBron safely holds that title.
There are a few tests that can be used to make this distinction. First, there’s the one-on-one test. I think it would be close, but in a one-on-one game against each other, I would take LeBron. Official weight puts the difference between LeBron and Durant at 10 pounds, but it’s more likely to be a difference of closer to 20 or even 25. Combine that with freakish speed and athleticism and LeBron wins that matchup.
Durant is a superior long-range shooter to LeBron, but maybe not by as much as you think. LeBron actually shot 40 percent from behind the arc last season, just behind Durant’s 41 percent.
Conventional wisdom says LeBron is a better defender, but Durant is certainly not so far behind. Durant is totaling more blocks than LeBron over the last five years and is currently recording 2.3 stocks (steals and blocks) to LeBron’s 1.7.
So it’s pretty close, right? Wrong. LeBron’s two rings put him squarely in the drivers seat; although Durant’s car is on the same lap, and is gaining. The difference is the postseason, where LeBron actually shot better than Durant last season, and where he has recorded 11 career triple-doubles to Durant’s none. James’ best performances are in May and June.
There is still a King in the South, and summer is coming.
Peter is a freshman in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @pbaileywells22.