Great Debate: LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant
It’s never easy to label one NBA player as the best in the league. Dwight Howard is, without question, the best center in the NBA, but few would label him the best all-around player. Kobe Bryant is the best shooting guard in the NBA, but his days as the best all-around player seem to be over. We can talk about Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, and a whole host of others, but in the wake of the 2012 NBA Finals, most people seem to be split between two players when they talk about the best player in the NBA.
Is it Miami HEAT forward LeBron James, or Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant?
Today HOOPSWORLD asks: If you were starting a franchise today and could choose either of these players as your team’s cornerstone, which would it be? HOOPSWORLD’s Bill Ingram and Lang Greene take each side of the debate:
HOOPSWORLD’s Bill Ingram writes:
What this debate really comes down to is splitting hairs. Like the MVP debate, which also came down to LeBron James and Kevin Durant, the voter has to find some criteria to define one player as better or more valuable than the other. The truth is, you could flip a coin and be perfectly happy either way. Still, as recognized experts in this field, we have to find a way to choose between the two, and to me there are two defining characteristics that give Durant the edge.
First, there’s the coachability factor. Durant tells Thunder head coach Scott Brooks to treat him like a rookie. In other words, just because he is Kevin Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer and a leading MVP candidate, that doesn’t mean he feels he’s finished growing as a player. He wants to improve his game every single day. He wants to push himself in every practice to make sure he’s the best player he can be every game. He’s not above doing the dirty work; in fact, he craves the feedback and the challenges that come from his coaching staff every day. When Brooks calls Durant out and tells him he needs to work harder on something, Durant steels his resolve and works harder.
This has not been the case with LeBron James, who has been handled with kid gloves since arriving in the NBA. Whether or not he demands this kind of treatment – and there are those who will argue both ways – James has never been a player who has accepted the idea that he could improve his game. After all, he was “The King” before he ever stepped onto the NBA hardwoods. Thanks a lot, Sports Illustrated. Imagine how good LeBron might be if he had come into the league with the same humility that Durant did. He might have a handful of rings now instead of just one. He is certainly the most physically-gifted player to come along since Shaquille O’Neal.
The coachability factor, though, is about more than just one player; it’s about the example that one player is setting for the rest of the team. If you’re building a team from the ground up, it’s better to have someone who is hungry to improve every single day and paying rapt attention to the coaching staff than to have someone who feels he has nothing more to learn.
The second factor weighing in Durant’s favor is his big-game, big-moment mentality. If your team is down two with 5 seconds left in the game, there is no player in the NBA who wants the ball more or who has delivered more often than Kevin Durant. Durant actually seems to get better as the pressure mounts, and he demonstrated that trait in dramatic fashion in the playoffs this season. Even in the Finals, Durant stepped up as the rest of his team seemed to fold under the pressure. He was nothing short of brilliant, averaging 30.6 points while shooting 55% from the field, 40% from three and 84% from the free throw line. If his team had joined him at the elite level at which he was playing the Thunder would, at the very least, still be fighting for a championship this weekend instead of pondering what went wrong.
Again, deciding between Durant and James is a difficult choice to make. For my money, the hard-working, coachable, humble superstar who plays his best basketball when the game is on the line gets the nod over the guy who is simply more physically gifted than everyone else.
HOOPSWORLD’s Lang Greene writes:
Win it comes down to winning time, the NBA is a star’s league, and there is no bigger star in the game at the moment than LeBron James. Therefore, if I was building a team from scratch, James would undoubtedly be my choice to carry the franchise on his shoulders over Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant.
Taking nothing away from Durant, who is one of the smoothest scorers in the history of the league, but James is the guy who has the proven track record of making his teammates substantially better. As a matter of fact, when it comes to James, there probably isn’t a player in the history of the game that has had more responsibility thrust on his shoulders on both ends of the floor each time he laces up the high tops.
Think about that for a minute – the level of responsibility.
James is routinely responsible for being his team’s leading scorer, best playmaker and top defender. But most importantly he has delivered year in and year out in this role. Want scoring? Well, James has finished in the top four in the league every season since 2005. Need playmaking? Well, James has finished in the top ten is assists per game four out of the past eight seasons. The team needs a defensive presence? Well, James has finished in the league’s top ten in steals per game five out of the past eight seasons, while also being named to the last four All-Defensive first teams.
While Durant is a fabulous scorer and a seemingly unstoppable offensive force he’s yet to prove he can consistently excel at other aspects of the game at a higher level.
Five seasons into his career and Durant has yet to record a single game with at least ten assists. Now you may be thinking of a rebuttal right now along the lines of Durant role being more of a primary scorer not a point guard, but then that takes you back to my previous paragraph on responsibility and expectations. Durant and James play the same position, yet James is expected to contribute just as many points as Durant but also set teammates up for easy buckets as well, while Durant gets the pass to just be a prolific scorer.
Simple logic, the player you usually carry more expectations from nightly is typically the better overall player.
Another note on Durant is he has yet to finish in the league’s top ten in steals per game and also hasn’t been selected to an All-Defensive team thus far.
James is maligned at times for questionable performances in the postseason but in 115 playoff appearances he has averages of 28.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game. And get this; James’ teams have never been eliminated in the first round of the postseason. Ever. Michael Jordan, who many consider the best player to ever play in the NBA, was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in his first three years in the league (1985-87).
The biggest knock on LeBron James up until this point in his career had been built on the exaggerated playoff “clutch” argument, but surely that line of thinking must be put to rest after his postseason of 2012. There was the Miami HEAT’s much-needed game four against the Indiana Pacers in the second round on the road trailing 2-1. James responded with 40 points, 18 rebounds and 9 assists. Then there was game six versus the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, with Miami trailing 3-2 and James going off for 45 points and 15 rebounds – also on the road. And, of course, there was the NBA Finals clinching triple-double performance in game five versus Durant’s Thunder to win his first championship.
Admittedly, Durant may be the more grounded, likeable and down the earth superstar between the two players, but if you’re looking to build a team with a finished and proven product, then you must roll with LeBron James.