Is it safe to say that Kevin Durant is the best player in the NBA, better than LeBron James? Some wait for an NBA championship ring to be put on Durant’s finger, but when looking specifically at what each player does and not what he wins with his team, James, for the first time over the last five seasons, is inferior to someone.
Durant isn’t just going to win the scoring title with 32 points per game, 5.6 points per game better than number 2 (Carmelo Anthony) and 5.9 points better than LeBron James. He leads the NBA in win shares, win shares per 48 minutes and offensive win shares. That’s usually a very good indicator of who was the best player this season, as nine of the last 14 MVPs were the league leaders that season in that category.
But there’s more than just numbers, who can always be looked at with a subjective eye, despite their cold and “objective” nature. The eye test is important. Consistency is important. Dominance and the ability to take over games is as well. Not that James can’t win games on his own from time to time. Maybe he’s been truly coasting like many have been saying, and he’s been saving himself for what really matters, the postseason.
But James hasn’t been great as much as Durant has been. Maybe it’s a case of what the team requires each of them to do. Maybe it’s the difference in who they are: LeBron is first and foremost something of a pass-first player who is also an incredibly gifted scorer that can’t run away from the responsibility. Kevin Durant was built to score points; the more he shoots, it feels like the better the Thunder play.
It’s not exactly true, but the sense is that the Thunder’s system (which isn’t really a system but simply putting the ball in Durant’s hand) is at its best when the players are looking for him. Miami? Every team in the NBA prefers running the open floor, playing a transition-type of game and avoiding too many long half court possessions, but James and the Heat are especially prone to looking bad when that happens to them.
James has already “lost” an MVP award only to come back with a vengeance and claim two more, along with two NBA titles. It had more to do with popularity and the media world avenging his departure from the Cavs than actually being the second best player in the league. This year it’s different, and Durant winning the MVP award is something of a passing of the torch ceremony, although no one will call it that until the Thunder finally win the championship.