Durant Challenges the King

Nate Levinson, Sports Editor

For the majority of the last decade, LeBron James has unquestionably been the best player in the NBA (apologies to Kobe Bryant). His all-around play and ability to make his teammates better were unrivaled, but this season LeBron’s seat atop the basketball hierarchy has been called into question.

Well on his way to what should be the first of many MVP awards, Kevin Durant has placed himself firmly in the conversation for best player on the planet. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s 25-year-old superstar is averaging career highs of 32.2 points and 5.6 assists per game and has taken his game to a new level this season. He has now scored over 25 points in each of 39 consecutive games, the longest such streak since Michael Jordan did it in the 1985-86 season.

For those interested in advanced statistics, too, Durant’s Player Efficiency Rating is a league-leading 30.86. PER measures a player’s per-minute productivity and is perhaps the best statistical indicator of on-court play; such a high number indicates Durant’s dominance. Should he keep his grasp atop the PER rankings, he’d become the first player, other than LeBron, to lead the NBA in that category since the 2006-07 season.

The fact that Durant was without his injured all-star teammate Russell Westbrook for over two months of this season makes Durant’s season all the more impressive. In fact, he was even better in Westbrook’s absence. Durant led the Thunder to a 17–7 record, while upping his scoring average to 35 points per game, despite being the only go-to scoring threat on the team.

Arguments for either LeBron and Durant can easily be made, and while one might argue that LeBron should have the advantage because he’s won two championships to Durant’s zero, past accomplishments mean little for this season.

It could also be argued that LeBron has had to carry his Miami Heat team just as much this year with Dwyane Wade bat­tling injury, but Wade has still managed to play 12 more games than Westbrook, and even without him, the Heat have Chris Bosh as a solid number two option. This isn’t to say that LeBron hasn’t carried the Heat for most of the season, just that, on the whole, he has had far more to work with than Durant.

Add in the fact that Durant is averaging more rebounds than LeBron and is a superior threat from the perimeter, and one can make a case that he has become the more dynamic player of the two. Durant has long been on par with LeBron as a scorer, but now that he has improved the rest of his game, it’s tough to choose between the two.

I’m not fully ready to say that LeBron has vacated his throne and that Durant is the new “King” of the NBA, but the fact that this topic needs discussing shows just how good Durant has become.

Whereas in the past LeBron was the clear-cut number one player in the NBA, he is now more of a 1 to Durant’s 1A. The Thunder have a better record than the Heat while playing in what is, by far, the superior conference, and they owe nearly all of that to Durant. Meanwhile, LeBron’s Heat have underachieved in a historically bad Eastern Conference.

Durant himself has said he is tired of being compared to LeBron, but as long as the two are in the league together, they will inevitably be looked at together.

Durant and LeBron are without a doubt the two best players in the game, and they play for two of the NBA’s best teams. All I can hope for now is that the Heat and the Thunder meet in the NBA Finals so that the two can settle this debate once and for all.