Both the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers have survived the first round of NBA playoffs, keeping alive the opportunity for fans to witness perhaps the two best players in the game—LeBron James and Kobe Bryant—face off in the championship.
But if LeBron and Kobe are arguably the best of today’s league, who would be deemed the best of tomorrow? Most basketball critics would argue that you don’t have to travel far from the Washington, D.C. area to answer that question.
At age 21, District native Kevin Durant is quickly climbing his way to the top of the player ranks. He is the fastest player to capture the season scoring title after averaging 30.1 points per game, and led the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 50-plus win season, including two impressive victories against the No. 1 seed Lakers in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
With incredible physical ability and incomparable skills on the hardwood, there’s no limit to how great Durant can become. Or is there?
Depending on who’s asked, some folks believe Durant will eventually surpass 2010 Most Valuable Player LeBron James as the best player in all of basketball.
That’s a very tall order to fill, but it may not be farfetched. What do you think?
Visit afro.com to see what sports buffs Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley have to say about this hot debate.
Stephen’s Take—KD’s shooting will push him ahead of LeBron
Durant may lack the athletic explosiveness of James but the case can be made that he’s already a better scorer than the reigning MVP will ever be.
Durant’s jumpshot is already legendary across the league and the passion and killer instinct that he sprints the court with has earned him glowing reviews. He’s a fearless rebounder — evidenced by his 19 rebounds against the Lakers in Game 3 of their playoff series— and a ferocious scorer. Durant can shoot over you, fading away from you and run off ball screens and stroke it like the “Reggie Millers” and “Larry Birds” of old. He became the youngest player to lead the league in scoring and even flirted with a spot in history with 29 games of scoring at least 25 points, the longest since Michael Jordan’s 40-game streak in the 1986 season.
Durant’s currently carving out his place in NBA history and like James, his humbleness and work ethic is rare for such a supremely talented young player. But unlike James, Durant’s game is built for the long run, not the short term.
James has made his mark as the best player in the league over the last few seasons by using the physical mismatches of his 6-foot-9 inch, 250-plus pound frame to simply overpower his opponents. His speed and athleticism make him an impossible matchup for defenders but James’ shooting has always been his Achilles heel. And as seen with other great NBA athletes, the body breaks down over the course of time and when the athleticism goes, a premium on shooting rises to the forefront, an obvious advantage for Durant.
One look at superstar Kobe Bryant and it’s obvious that he lacks the explosiveness that his former slam dunk champion body used to possess, but he’s continued along a great career via a deadly jumper and the instincts of heartless assassin, two advantages that Durant reigns supreme over James on. Durant has already shown in his short three-year career that he has no problem isolating his teammates and hoisting shots away in attempt to put his team in the win column while James has shown maybe too much of a willingness to pass to the open man with the game on the line.
If you look at the past championship teams of NBA history, somewhere along those rosters you’ll find a few great shooters and a few “type-A” personalities. If you look at Jordan and Bryant — 10 championships between the two — it’s clear that both men possessed both of the aforementioned traits that helped bring home the hardware. One look at Durant and James —zero championships between the two— and it’s clear who’s more equipped over the long haul to have the more storied career.
Perry’s Take—Durant will be as good, but not better than King James
They’re so much alike in their game that leads one to believe Durant will be just as great of a player as James. Standing 6-feet 8-inches or taller, both players are walking mismatches to any opponent who dares attempt to defend them. That explains why they both signed multi-million dollar endorsement deals with Nike before they could even play their first game in the pros (Durant signed a $60 million contract with Nike, a rookie deal second only to LeBron’s contract worth $90 million). They both proved they deserved the endorsements, earning NBA Rookie of the Year honors, attaining instant success in a league full of fully matured adults.
In fact, it’s the undeniable similarities of their talent that gives reason to believe “KD” will eventually have just as great of career as “King James” will. But to believe Durant will be greater than LeBron may be too far of a reach to make.
At age 25, James has already earned two NBA Most Valuable Player awards, six All-Star selections, two All-Star MVP awards, an All-Defensive First Team selection, an NBA season scoring title and an Olympic Gold medal. He’s been to the NBA postseason five consecutive seasons, and is on pace to reach his second NBA Finals appearance.
Durant certainly has enough time to catch up on the achievements list. He’s only 21-years-old, and has resurrected a struggling franchise that was one of the worst teams in the league as the Seattle Super Sonics just a few years ago. Like LeBron, he led his team to the playoffs for the first time in the third season of his career. But while Durant will try to improve on making it out of the first round of the playoffs next season, James may be hoisting up the championship trophy this summer.
There’s a lot of catching up to do for Durant if he wants to be considered as great as LeBron, and there isn’t much doubt that he’ll pull it off. But until he does, all including KD will hail King James.
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