LeBron James and Kevin Durant are widely considered the top two players in the NBA. While there are certainly fans who believe Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul or a handful of other superstars can challenge KD and LBJ for the top two spots, advanced statistics help paint the picture of just how good these two really are.
Everyone knows the typical stats that have been around forever such as points per game, rebounds per game, field goal percentage, etc., but in this modern era of basketball, advanced stats are starting to emerge as one of the best ways to measure a basketball player's true value.
NBA front offices are beginning to buy into the phenomenon more and more. Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has turned his staff's entire philosophy toward a focus on basketball analytics. The Memphis Grizzlies recently hired long-time ESPN statistical guru John Hollinger as their vice president of basketball operations as well.
Just this past week, Morey hosted the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference where NBA experts and researchers made multiple presentations on how they feel the game of basketball is evolving and showing new, advanced ways in which players can be evaluated.
There is no question that the trend of advanced stats will continue to grow.
When taking a closer look at some of these modern statistics, it becomes more clear just how dominant LeBron James and Kevin Durant have been in the 2012-13 NBA season.
PER (minimum 1,500 minutes played)
Definition: PER is the most commonly known NBA advanced statistic and is defined as the overall rating of a player's per-minute statistical production, with the league average set to 15.00 each season.
James and Durant: LeBron James and Kevin Durant rank first and second in the league in PER, with ratings of 31.3 and 28.7, respectively. Durant is a whole 2.7 points ahead of Chris Paul, who is in third.
When you start to move further down the list, you realize just how big of a gap 2.7 is in PER. That is more than the difference between fourth place (Dwyane Wade at 24.6) and 14th place (Andray Blatche at 22.0).
Not only are these guys the top scorers on two of the NBA's best teams, but they also do it at incredibly efficient rates. If James continues to play like he did in February where he posted a career-high monthly PER of 38.5, he could have a legitimate shot at Wilt Chamberlain's all-time record of 31.8.
Definition: Win shares attempts to define exactly how many of a team's total wins should be credited to a specific player. For example, the Houston Rockets have won 33 games and James Harden's win shares total is 10.2. Therefore, Harden should be directly credited for 10.2 of their 33 wins.
James and Durant: This one is not even close. James and Durant again rank first and second in the league at 14.8 and 14.5, respectively. Harden comes in 4.3 points behind Durant for third place.
The Heat and Thunder are tied for the second most wins in the league at 45 (behind the Spurs with 48), and these two superstars are credited with nearly a third of all those games according to the stat. When you consider that 12 guys suit up each night and one player is doing a third of the team's entire work, it is simply incredible.
Both James and Durant have fellow superstar teammates in Dwyane Wade (7.8 win shares) and Russell Westbrook (8.8 win shares), but it should be noted that their win shares are about six to seven games lower than that of the top two players in the league.
True Shooting Percentage (minimum 500 true shot attempts)
Definition: True shooting percentage is defined as a measure of shooting ability that takes into account field goals, three point field goals and free throws, rather than separating the percentages into different statistics.
James and Durant: James and Durant do not rank first and second in true shooting percentage, but they are pretty close. Durant is currently second to only Tyson Chandler with a clip of .645. James is only three spots behind in fifth place (behind Kyle Korver and Tiago Splitter) at .636.
In order to fully appreciate this, you need to realize that every single night, James and Durant receive the opposing team's best defender and the Heat and Thunder have a bullseye on their backs each time they step onto the floor.
It shows just how unstoppable these guys are on offense. No matter what you throw at them, they can drain shots from all over the floor, whether it is inside, outside or at the line. Considering that Chandler and Splitter take the vast majority of their shots right around the basket, James and Durant should be considered two of the best, if not the best, pure shooters in the league.
Defensive Win Shares
Definition: Similar to win shares, defensive win shares measures how many of a team's total wins can be credited to a player's defense. It is based on Dean Oliver's defensive rating system, which measures how many points a player allows per 100 possessions.
James and Durant: To anyone who thinks LeBron James and Kevin Durant are merely offensive juggernauts, think again. Both players rank in the Top 12 in the league with Durant in seventh at 3.8 defensive win shares and James in 12th at 3.4 defensive win shares. Paul George leads the league with 5.1 defensive win shares.
It is well-noted that James is a fierce defender who has the ability to shut down all five positions if needed. What may surprise people here is how highly Durant ranks as he is usually just lauded for his incredible offense.
Durant has learned how to use his long arms and quickness to his advantage and keep his man in front of him at all times over the past few seasons, and the Thunder are reaping the benefits.
When it comes down to it, these advanced stats show that James and Durant are destroying the league both offensively and defensively, but there really is no measure good enough to express how amazing these two basketball players are.
As the Nike ad used to say, "We Are All Witnesses." Except this time around, there are two guys who we should all be in awe of.
All statistics provided via basketball-reference.com and are correct as of March 8, 2013.