If Kevin Durant Gets A Ring Before LeBron James, Who’s The #1 Player In The NBA?
Before the NBA season started, ESPN released a list of the top 50 players in the league. Perched on top of this list was LeBron James. Sitting at #6, behind Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and Dirk Nowitzski was 23-year-old Kevin Durant. The only argument against LeBron James sitting in the top spot was that he had yet to win an NBA championship. Well, not just that: there was also the lack of what Skip Bayless defines as a “clutch gene.” Meanwhile, Bayless tweeted that he could make a case for Durant being #1.
If Durant is able to snag an NBA Championship now, and before LeBron James, that may be a very valid argument.
Let’s be clear, LeBron James is by far the most gifted physical specimen in the NBA. He can pretty much do everything. His size and quickness are uncanny, his defense continues to improve, and his court vision shames many elite NBA point guards. Durant is still a bit too skinny to be as dominant. He doesn’t pass the ball as well and doesn’t quite play defense like James. However, the detriment against LeBron is what separates Michael Jordan from Oscar Robertson when it comes to the “greatest of all-time” lists — winning when it matters.
“The Big O” was a stat box stuffer. The only player in the history of the league to average a triple double, Robertson is a twelve time NBA All-Star and one-time MVP, with one NBA title. When looking at his career statistics by themselves, it’s hard to argue that he isn’t the greatest all-around player the league has ever seen (along with some guy named Magic Johnson). Robertson averaged 25 points, 9.5 assists, and 7.5 rebounds for his career. But Jordan will always get the nod because of his killer instinct, will to win, and those six NBA championships.
Jordan wasn’t as “complete” as Robertson. While averaging 30 a game for his career, he only averaged five assists and six rebounds. Still good, but not Robertson-like. But those rings, that killer instinct, the amazing athletic ability, and his competitiveness easily makes him #1.
LeBron isn’t quite “The Big O” and Durant has a long way to go before he’s ever considered to be like Jordan, but the parallels are quite similar. Durant already has three NBA scoring titles. His shooting ability is the best in the league and he’s been considered very clutch down the stretch. His career lines of 28 points, 3.5 assists, and 8 rebounds are remarkable. However, James’ career averages of 27, 6, and 8 are a shade better.
But now with Oklahoma City heading to the NBA Finals and LeBron on the brink of elimination, the debate is sure to begin. What if Durant does win a ring before James? Can you justify him being #1? Sure you can.
You can argue that Durant has a better team. That’s a solid argument. But you can’t penalize the man for being the best player on a better team. It still is, without a doubt, Kevin Durant’s team. Meanwhile, LeBron struggles to be the best player on his own team. Dwyane Wade is still considered by many to be the man who leads that team. Here’s a question: with the game on the line, who would you rather have with the ball? Here’s another one: who would you feel more comfortable with at the free throw line?
You can say rings don’t mean anything because if they did, Derek Fisher should get consideration. I actually heard that. But how many teams did Derek Fisher lead to a title? If Durant wins his first at 23, he will have led his team there. If LeBron wins, you can debate that he didn’t lead the Heat. It’s really all about who answers when opportunity knocks. We’ve seen LeBron fade in big moments. If Durant makes good on his opportunity, there would be a very strong case that he’s the best player in the NBA.
Care to disagree?