24 October 2020

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Who is the best player in the league? Part (2/7)

Who is the best player in the world?

The generally accepted theory is that there are six conceivable best players in the NBA; players that if someone was to claim are the best in the world you wouldn’t look to place them under psychiatric supervision. Those six players are Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, James Harden, Giannis Antetokoumpo, and Kawhi Leonard. Over the next few weeks, I will attempt to express the argument for each player as well as some of the factors that detract from their case.

The arguments presented in this piece, are not necessarily supporting my point of view, rather, the feasible arguments that support a player’s case to be regarded as the best player in the world. The criteria for the best in the world include but are not limited to:

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  • Team success
  • Influence on the sport
  • Longevity 
  • Individual performance
  • Résumé
  • “Eye test”
  • The peak of their powers

Kevin Durant

27/7/4 on 49/38/88; you’d be forgiven for thinking those are career highs. They are just the Slim Reaper’s career averages. Kevin Durant is a three-level scorer the likes of which we’ve never seen before. He’s a four-time NBA Scoring Champ, two-time Finals MVP, and an NBA MVP. Kevin Durant changed the warriors from one of the best teams of all time to an unbeatable super team that puts the LeBron Miami teams to shame.

To a casual fan, it’s easy enough to say that KD has had a minimal effect on how basketball is played within the NBA. He’s indeed had a significantly smaller effect on the game than a player such as Stephen Curry, however, there is a reason that the most valuable type of player in the league is a defensively switchable scoring wing. Whilst it is a fair comment to claim that this isn’t as a direct result of Durant, it is also fair to say that he is certainly the archetype. 

The eye test for KD is a story of efficiency; his ability to catch and shoot, pull up in rhythm, pull up on the drive, or finish with authority at the rim puts him in a class reserved for all-time greats such as MJ and the Black Mamba. Maybe he’s the only other player that belongs in that category, I certainly believe so.

Kevin Durant is the most unguardable player in the league; his combination of length and guard skills leaves even the best defenders in the league at a loss. The last time he matched up with Kawhi, the best perimeter defender in the league, he scored 51 points including a mind-boggling 3 to send the game to overtime

(seriously, go back and rewatch this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tHGWMm6gFQ).

During his time with the Warriors, KD turned himself into a defensive force; using his length, his ability on the defensive end became nearly as impressive as his unique offensive ability. He’s the epitome of a modern player, can guard 1-5 comfortably, and can hit any shot that’s ever been conceived.

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Durant takes over Game 3 finale, makes shots that seal Cavs’ fate, SF Gate

KD’s effect on team success over the last few years has been diluted thanks to him playing in the most talented NBA team of all time. Following a disappointing defeat at the end of a 73-win season, it’s impossible to see the Warriors winning back-to-back titles with such little resistance (save for some Houston series’) without Durant’s presence.

During the 2018-19 Playoffs, Kevin Durant was a part of the most effective 5-man lineup (min. 25 minutes played) with an incredible 69.4 net rating. On top of that, he was a member of the most efficient lineup of the same playoffs, which put up a mind-boggling 82% true shooting percentage; up 23% from the most efficient team during the same period. In KD’s last season with the Warriors, he led the team in offensive rating when on/off the court with a 14.2 differential.

Kevin Durant’s career is tarred in an unparalleled way for an NBA superstar. He is constantly ostracised for his decision to join the Golden State Warriors and he is equally as frequently criticized for his seeming lack of ability to win without a modern-day Space Jam cast. Of course, those two things go hand in hand.

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Kevin Durant celebrates the 2017 NBA championship, SLAM Online

 

I am neither strongly in support of or opposed to KD’s move to the Warriors. Maybe, he did need to get out of the OKC-Russ system and join a team with much-improved floor spacing. However, joining a 73-win team may have been a step too far.

During his Oklahoma years, Kevin Durant had suffered from some of the most poorly constructed teams of the modern era. Whilst with the Thunder, he made no less than 30.2% of the teams made 3s, peaking during the 2010-11 season where he shot an absurd 44.2% of the team’s makes from deep. To say that he couldn’t lead a team to an NBA title is irrational. He was the best player in back-to-back finals in which he went toe-to-toe with LeBron James, granted on slightly uneven footing.

In just his fourth season in the league, he took an infantile Oklahoma team to the NBA finals. En route to the final, Kevin Durant tore apart a very competitive Western Conference sweeping the defending champions and disposing of near dynastic Lakers and Spurs teams. Of course, there is merit in saying that he hasn’t won it alone or even as ‘the guy’.

There is also a point to be made that he played in an incompetent system in Oklahoma and has never had the full opportunity to stand on his own. If Kevin Durant can return to 95% of what he was pre-Achilles injury, he has the opportunity to flip the narrative and achieve the one thing eluding him in his illustrious career.

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Frustration with Russell Westbrook sent Kevin Durant to Golden State, The Oklahoman

Kevin Durant has the most complex case to claim the title of the best player in the league. He is by far the most effective scorer in the league and has been one of the most consistent players of the last decade. However, he has also been unable to win without being a member of the most stacked team of all time. The consensus is that you can win with Kevin Durant being ‘the guy’ but we have never actually seen it. Kevin Durant without a doubt deserves to be in the conversation for best player, the only question is whether he can achieve the team success without three other all-stars to justify being number one.

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