As demonized as he may be, LeBron James is without a doubt one of the best players in the NBA. The 27 year-old has done almost everything there is to do—except win a championship. Many people believe that the 23 year-old Kevin Durant is knocking on the door to become the league's best player. And given LeBron's lack of popularity amongst fans, the belief that Durant will soon surpass James has become a popular opinion.
Although they are often compared to each other, it's clear as day that the two superstars are fairly different players.
LeBron James is more than a physical freak. His size, strength, quickness, and overall athleticism are out of this world. Nobody who stands 6'8" and weighs 250 pounds should be as fast and coordinated as he is. When people say he could play in the NFL, there is certainly some standing behind it.
Coming into the league straight out of high school, LBJ was a raw talent. His jump shot was almost nonexistent and he depended entirely on using his athleticism to get to the rim as well as using his strength to finish in traffic. And it was clear. He shot only 42% from the field and an ugly 29% from three. While mid-range and long-range are still not his strengths today, he has made drastic improvements.
He handles the ball like a point guard and is an elite passer, two things that are not said about many players with his size. These skills have helped draw comparisons to the great Magic Johnson. And, for the record, LBJ is more Magic than he is Jordan. Period.
Defensively, good luck finding a better perimeter defender in today's league than LeBron James. His size, length, and athleticism as well as defensive discipline make him a dominant force on the defensive end. He has the ability to guard almost anyone on the floor, which he showed us all when he locked down on MVP Derrick Rose in last year's playoffs. And when he is on the floor he completely changes the way opposing teams run their fast break with the fear that James is waiting for his signature block from behind.
Of course, nobody is perfect and LeBron has his deficiencies. He has been to the NBA Finals twice and still does not have a ring. To be fair, his first appearance was as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were completely overmatched by the San Antonio Spurs.
However, it seemed like the stars were aligning for LeBron to get a ring in the 2011 playoffs. After teaming up with two fellow superstars, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the Miami Heat smothered Eastern Conference elites such as the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics to make it to the NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. James disappeared in the fourth quarters and was unable to exploit older, and often undersized, Mavericks defenders. As a result, LeBron is still without a ring. Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert has accused LBJ of quitting multiple times during the playoffs. He often appears unmotivated or even timid when the stakes are the highest.
Kevin Durant is another elite small forward in a league filled with superstar wing players. Like James, Durant is gifted with excellent height and length for a player with his talent. He is certainly one of the thinner players around, which lead to durability concerns when it came time for him to enter the draft. Durant struggled a bit with the physicality of the NBA when he first got into the league, but this concern has more or less been put to rest over the past few years.
KD is arguably the best mid-range scorer in the league and can score from literally anywhere on the court. When he gets the ball around the free throw line he is as close to unstoppable as you can be. There is a reason why Durant has won the scoring title the past two seasons.
Just like LeBron, KD is capable of putting up very good rebounding numbers as well. Durant is the best pure scorer in the league in the sense that he is the most dangerous player every time he steps on the floor. He is not necessarily a lights out three-point shooter, but, like LeBron, I wouldn't recommend that you leave him open from the perimeter.
Durant is an excellent free throw shooter, a skill that will help him close out plenty of games over the course of his career. His personality is infectious, to say the least. There is nobody out there who doesn't want him to be the face of the league. KD is a very humble, intelligent person while also maintaining his competitiveness and ability to fire his team up when needed.
Despite his offensive dominance, Durant still has progress to make on the defensive end of the floor. He is by no means a lockdown defender and can even be a liability at times. He will get a few steals and blocks here and there but that is mostly due to his ridiculous length. Not the type of player that should be defending another elite player, at least not yet.
Does Durant have the clutch gene? I think it's too soon to tell. His Thunder are now leaving the "potential" stage and are now expected to make a serious title run this year. We'll have a much better idea at the end of the season. In his first ever playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers a few years ago, Durant shot an awful 35% from the field. He did put up much better numbers the following playoffs but he was still very young and inexperienced. It is still something worth bringing up.
So, who's the better player? LeBron James or Kevin Durant?
As of right now, I have to say LeBron James. He changes games on both ends of the floor, which is something that cannot yet be said about Kevin Durant. I understand it's easy to overlook the defensive end in a league that loves to score but the disparity between James and Durant defensively is too much to ignore.
And to be honest, we haven't seen enough out of Durant in the playoffs to say that he is a better postseason player than James. I understand that LeBron also has Wade and Bosh on his team, but Durant's Thunder have quite the loaded roster as well. So it's not very fair to say that LeBron "should" be winning championships because of his teammates. In fact, the Thunder even have the deeper team with more capable role players.
Durant's scoring ability is, in my mind, the only advantage that he holds over LBJ. LeBron has the edge when it comes to defense, rebounding, ball handling, passing and overall athleticism and versatility.
Is this subject to change? Of course.
LeBron has been in the league four years longer than KD so it's only fair to give Durant his time to develop, just like James did. But for right now, right at this moment, give me LeBron James. But ask me again at the end of the year and my answer might change.
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