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Durant vs LeBron: It’s not even close

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When Kevin Durant hit the game-winning 3-pointer over LeBron’s outstretched hand in Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals, many  proclaimed Kevin Durant as the new “best player in the world.”

Paul Pierce called Durant “the new best player in the NBA,” on the ESPN broadcast post-game.

This was noteworthy, considering LeBron James has owned the title of being the best basketball player in the world for over 10 years, and is a top 3 player of all time.

The Durant narrative did not slow down over the off season, and Durant even chimed in himself recently.

In an interview with Bleacher Report (found here), Kevin Durant said when he felt that when he drained the Game 3 dagger, “I felt like [LeBron] was passing the torch to me.”

Unfortunately for Durant, the torch was not passed. Lebron James is still the best basketball player in the world, and it is not even close.

People reason that since Kevin Durant won the championship last season, he had  eclipsed LeBron. The argument is that right now, Durant is the best player.

Slow down.

First, James had a better overall regular season (2016-2017) than Durant, even though he was in his 14th NBA season, and Durant was in his 10th. James’s averages for the season were 26.4 points per game, 8.7 assists per game, and 8.6 rebounds per game. Durant averaged 25.1 points per game, 8.3 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game.

Rebounds were close, with a slight edge to James, but James was clearly the better passer than Durant, nearly doubling the assists. Many say that Durant is the best scorer in the NBA, yet LeBron outscored him on the season, with a higher field goal percentage. If LeBron was better than Durant at Durant’s greatest strength, how on earth can Durant be considered better? 

In 2016-2017, James was first-team All-NBA, and Durant was second all-team NBA. There is no way that a player who failed to make first-team All-NBA can be considered the best.

Then, there is the argument that Durant will never be able to escape. He joined a 73 win team.

Now, he should not be faulted for his decision. He did what was best for himself. But do not pretend that him winning the championship in Oakland is equal to him winning in Oklahoma City. The Warriors proved they could win a Championship without Durant (2014-2015). Durant never won a championship without the Warriors.

He played with another top-5 player in the NBA, Russell Westbrook, and made one Finals appearance (losing in 5 to James’s Heat), and in the 2015-2016 season lost to the same Warriors that Lebron’s Cavaliers would beat in the Finals.

Compare that to LeBron, who took the Cavaliers to the Finals as a 22-year old, with their second leading scorer being Larry Hughes. This is an unbelievable accomplishment, and is arguably a better accomplishment than Durant winning a championship with the Warriors.

People seemed to get caught up in Durant’s Finals performance, which no doubt was spectacular. But he did not show his superiority over LeBron at all. Let’s put perspective on the performance.

James averaged a triple-double(33.6 ppg, 12 rpg and 10 apg per game) for the Finals, becoming the first player in NBA history to do so. He had to do so much more for his team than Durant (35.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg and 5.4 apg) had to do for his.

People point to the fact that Durant made the plays in crunch time, and point to James’s failure to make the plays in the fourth quarter. Game 3 seemed to prove the point, when Durant hit the game-winner. But this is not a valid argument.

In game 3, Durant scored 14 points in the fourth, and 31 points for the game, meaning he only scored 17 points in the first 3 quarters. Durant was passive throughout most of the game, and there is no way James could have gotten away with that and expected to win. James could not afford biding his time until the fourth quarter, like Durant could on the Warriors. In the same game, James scored 39 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and dished 9 assists, and the Cavs were unable to build a comfortable lead. James played 45 minutes and 37 seconds, and was +7 for the game, a game which they lost by 5. Try to figure out that math. Absolutely, Durant deserves credit for his clutch plays, but he played on a team with so much firepower that could score with or without his contributions. Durant was +0 on the night in 41 minutes. Conversely, the Cavs needed LeBron on the floor at all times.

Essentially, Durant was on a much better team than LeBron was on in the Finals. If LeBron were on the Warriors and Durant was on the Cavaliers, the Cavs would not have won one game.

To prove this point, look at the player’s value to their respective team. In the last 3 seasons, the Cavaliers are 4-18 without Lebron. Last season, the Warriors went on a 14 game win streak without Durant.

Also, Durant joined a 73 win team. Lebron joined a 33-win team. That is a 40 win difference, and LeBron has taken the Cavs to three straight Finals, winning one.

Career-wise the two are not even comparable. Since Kevin Durant is in his eleventh NBA season, let’s compare the two’s accomplishments in their first 10 NBA seasons. Durant made 2 Finals, winning one championship. Durant also won one MVP and 5 All-NBA First Team selections. James made four Finals, winning two, and also won 4 MVP awards and 7 All-NBA First Team selections.

Durant is not close to LeBron now, and he is not close career-wise. So how can he be “the new best player in the NBA”?

Don’t kid yourself. The torch has not been passed. Lebron James is still the King.

 

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Durant vs LeBron: It’s not even close