LeBron James and Kevin Durant show mutual respect for one another.
The first is less important than the second, which was that Kevin Love is the best power forward in the National Basketball Association. While I absolutely love Kevin's offensive prowess (both in the post and from deep) and his tenacious rebounding, he is anemic on defense, which is something that cannot be overlooked when discussing who is the best at their position. For this same reason, I never have considered Steve Nash to be the best point guard at any stage in his career. Best passer, sure. Best 3-point shooting point guard, easily. But defense is a major part of the game. It should not be thrown aside in lieu of great offensive skill.
The second, and more pressing issue that I have to address, is that of the top cornerstone with which a person should build their NBA franchise.
Kevin Durant over LeBron James.
The argument was made that Kevin Durant is the better cornerstone because he is a superior offensive player and three years younger. So, let us take a moment to dissect what makes a great offensive player before tackling the issue of age.
There are many facets to offense in basketball, we'll begin with the very basics.
Movement. The ability to move with or without the ball.
The basic fundamental skill to moving with the ball is dribbling. LeBron is easily the better ball-handler. He runs his team, doing most of the primary ball-handling, much like a point guard.
The fundamental intangible to moving without the ball is awareness. Awareness of the ball in relation to where the defense is, the product of which is good spacing and the readiness to receive the ball at a moment's notice. Both LeBron and Kevin exhibit great awareness on offense. While they exhibit this with differing approaches (LeBron slashes and cuts to the basket more like an aggressive swing-man or guard, whereas Kevin runs through and around various picks and screens - like Ray Allen - looking for an open shot), both are always mindful of the ball's location and the defense's presence and capable of receiving the ball at any moment, whether it is Kevin coming off of a curl for a catch-and-shoot jumper or LeBron catching the alley-oop off of a back-cut along the baseline.
Verdict: LeBron has superior movement, due to his ball-handling skill, which enables him to move through the defense with ease, whether attacking the rim or drawing the defense to then kick the ball out to the open shooter.
Passing. The ability to locate and get the ball to the open man.
Passing is, in itself, a fundamental skill, of which, LeBron is easily better. His passing skills rival those of the best true point guards in the league today. Kevin would probably admit to this, as he was the recipient of a beautiful 50-foot bounce pass between two French defenders for a fast break dunk in the Olympics.
The fundamental intangible most associated with one's ability to be an excellent passer is their court vision. The ability to see the whole floor; knowing where your teammates are and when they are open.
Verdict: LeBron, whose skills as a passer rival those of Steve Nash and Rajon Rondo, is easily the better passer.
Shooting. The ability to put the ball in the hoop from medium to long range.
This does not need to be discussed. Whether a short or mid-range jumper, free-throw or three point shot, Kevin Durant is easily the best shooter in the world. This alone is why he has been the top scorer in the NBA for the past three seasons.
Post-Offense. The ability to score on the low block, at close range, in the presence of opposing big men.
Verdict: While LBJ has only recently started implementing this skill set into his game, it is relatively non-existent in Kevin's. LeBron, not only with his size (6'8", 250 lb.) but also his speed, presents a unique mismatch for most power forwards and centers in the league.
Rebounding. The ability to collect or retrieve the ball after a shot misses off of the backboard or rim.
|LeBron Rebounding||Kevin Rebounding|
|1.3 OR / 6.9 RPG*||0.9 OR / 5.7 RPG|
*Reflective of LeBron's first 5 seasons, in contrast with Kevin's 5 seasons in the league.
Verdict: Just comparing their first 5 seasons, LeBron is statistically better at rebounding, albeit minimally. And, considering that LeBron is more likely to start seeing an increase in minutes at power forward while being asked to play in the post more on offense, expect his rebounding numbers to improve.
Intangibles. The unseen qualities that separate great players from good ones and transcendent players for great ones. These qualities you are sure to find in the greatest of all players: Basketball IQ, Leadership, Tenacity/Willpower, Versatility and Character.
Basketball IQ. This is the level of understanding and intelligence that a player exhibits with regards to the game of basketball. A higher IQ translates to greater awareness and a superior ability to adapt to both the opposition and one's teammates. While I do not personally know either LeBron or Kevin, going off of the word of many great coaches, experts and analysts, LeBron is regarded as having one of the highest Basketball IQs in the history of the game.
Leadership. The ability to guide, influence or command a group of players, namely, one's teammates. While I do not have the fortune of seeing how things play out in the Oklahoma City locker rooms, on the court, Durant seems to let his coach do the leading. He rarely gets out of character, which for him is generally smiles, high-fives and the occasional "I dunked on you!" yell. If Kevin can be considered a leader, he leads by example.
In contrast, LeBron does it all. He teaches. He instructs. He yells. He directs. He coordinates. He leads by example - through his play - as well. LeBron is the consummate floor general.
Tenacity/Willpower. That inward feeling that drives a player to never give up; to persist in attacking; to both demand and bring about victory. This quality, in my assertion, both LeBron and Kevin exhibit equally.
Versatility. A player's ability to adapt, filling any need whether by requirement or not. This is a no-brainer. While Durant has good height (6'9") and phenomenal length (7'5" wingspan), his lack of size and muscle (only 235 pounds) prevents him from being able to play against other bigs. LeBron, however, is a physical freak of nature. Listed at 6-feet 8-inches and weighing 250 pounds (probably closer to 260), James has the requisite size to bang down low. Couple that with his speed and athleticism and he's a headache for any power forward or center to handle in the post. His ball-handling and passing skills, coupled with his size, make him a mismatch for any guard to handle. LeBron James is both capable of playing and creating mismatches at every position on offense. Not only does he have the physical capability of playing every position, but he has the understanding and mental resolve to do so as well.
Character. The moral and ethical makeup of a person. These days, teams value high character players. Both LeBron and Kevin are great examples for other players to follow. Not only do they stay out of trouble, but they do a lot to help in their communities. They are both very friendly and amiable in demeanor. They are both strong family men.
Verdict: LeBron James exhibits more of the necessary intangibles for greatness.
By my count, LeBron is better in 5 of 6 categories. That should qualify him as a better offensive player.
Now, giving credence to age, Kevin Durant is most definitely younger (only 24). But does that make him the better person to build a team around? Some would make the argument that at 24, having won three scoring titles and been to one NBA finals, he is better. That notion is seriously naive. At 24 years of age, Kevin Durant has achieved a level of greatness, in part, because he has worked hard and is tremendously talented, but also because he has a great nucleus of talent surrounding him.
LeBron James is only 27 years old. At only 21 years of age, LeBron led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals with a team whose second and third best players were Larry Hughes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. He won his first league MVP award at age 24. At age 23, LeBron was the league's scoring champ. But scoring isn't his focus, which is why he has only achieved that title once. LeBron, who is capable of guarding all five positions on the defensive end, has been on the NBA All-Defensive First Team for the past 4 years running, something that Durant has yet to achieve even once. Actually, Durant has yet to make any of the NBA All-Defensive teams.
Who would you rather have as a "cornerstone" to build an NBA team?
When you consider all of the facts, comparing their skills, both offensively and defensively, their character and intangibles, suddenly, age becomes moot.
Kevin Durant doesn't touch the hem of LeBron James' robe. There is a reason why LeBron James is renowned globally as, not just the NBA's best player, but the world's.
How, then, in any circumstance, is Kevin Durant a better cornerstone?