Kevin Durant's 2013 Playoff Run Proves How Far He Is from LeBron James' Level
Larry Hughes. Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Sasha Pavlovic. Drew Gooden.
Reggie Jackson. Serge Ibaka. Kevin Martin. Thabo Sefolosha.
How are they related? They each logged at least 25-plus minutes a night for the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2013 NBA playoffs. And Kevin Durant brought them as far as the Western Conference semifinals.
Tell me, which is the supporting cast you'd rather have—that of LeBron's in 2007, or Durant's in 2013?
If your answer was "2007," you're lying. Big time.
Big Z, Hughes and Gooden have all had their moments—Big Z, especially—but neither they nor Pavlovic combined to form a daunting combination of role players back then. None of them averaged more than 12.6 points per game. Yet, King James led them to a 12-8 postseason record and took them to the NBA Finals. They got pummeled by the San Antonio Spurs (4-0), but he still got them there.
Upon Russell Westbrook going down, Durant was left on his own, not unlike LeBron in '07. The complementary pieces left around him, however, were much more conducive to winning than LeBron's band of minions.
Serge Ibaka—the league's leading shot-blocker—is considered a star in his own right. He has been built up almost to a fault because of how the Thunder essentially chose him over James Harden.
Reggie Jackson is no superstar and made some rookie-esque mistakes (he's only a sophomore), but his per-36 minute averages during the regular season were through the roof and he averaged more points during the playoffs (13.9) than anyone not-named LeBron on the Cavaliers' championship run.
Kevin Martin is a former No. 1 scoring option for the Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets. He is basically a stranger to the playoffs, but when given the rock, he can score.
Then there's Thabo Sefolosha, who isn't known for his offense—he can shoot the three ball—but is revered for his defense. He was an upgrade over most of what LeBron had in 2007.
But the Thunder lost. Durant led them to a 2-6 record without Westbrook, and out of title contention.
To Durant's credit, the onus isn't entirely on him. He himself did what he could, finishing the postseason with averages of 30.8 points, nine rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. His shooting percentages plummeted (31.4 percent from deep), but he was on the court, giving everything he had. And it showed.
Durant became just the 31st player in NBA history to play in at least 10 playoff games and average more than 44 minutes a contest. He also became the first player in league history (minimum 10 same-season playoff contests) to average at least 30 points, nine rebounds, six assists and one block per game.
Oklahoma City still lost. Collapsed even. And for that, we can't blame Durant—even after his 5-of-21 performance. He was sensational.
But he wasn't LeBron James.
Life without Westbrook was a harrowing reminder that Durant isn't LeBron. Will Durant one day win an MVP award over him or even an NBA title at his expense? Perhaps. But if he does, that won't change things.
Which isn't a knock on Durant—he'll readily shoulder the burden that comes with a postseason exit. But again, it's not (entirely) on him. Martin shot just 37 percent from the field during the postseason. Ibaka hit on just 43.7 percent of his attempts as well. Jackson was new to his role. The help just wasn't there.
If Durant was LeBron, though, it wouldn't have needed to be. He would have been able to will his team to victory the way LeBron did in Cleveland. Not to a championship—LeBron couldn't even win one alone. But close to one.
No one. LeBron is on his own level. An unreachable pedestal that not even Durant can approach. There have been arguments that attempt to convince otherwise, but they can't. Not now.
Remnants of LeBron's reputation are still floating around somewhere in Cleveland. His image has largely rebounded from the mishandled decision, but our perception of him has never fully recovered.
Durant isn't that much different there. He's playing alongside a superstar in Westbrook and played next to a departed superstar in Harden. Ibaka and Martin are better than most of what LeBron ever had in Cleveland as well.
The difference? Durant didn't "flee."
Oklahoma City (and Seattle) is all he has ever known. He's spent the past five years next to Westbrook, and the Thunder's success in that time—coupled with a distorted acumen of Russell—left him right behind LeBron, when really, he's not.
It's easy to assume Durant was capable of carrying the Thunder the way LeBron did the Cavs. But he wasn't presented with the same test as LeBron. It had to be presumed that he could do the same things under similar circumstances because there was no evidence to suggest otherwise. What other choice was there?
Until now, there wasn't one. An unsuccessful struggle against the Grizzlies later, there is one. There's the truth.
Durant is a phenomenal talent, a future Hall of Famer. If it wasn't for LeBron, he would be the best player in the league. The best player in world. And he remains the closest player to LeBron; he is LeBron's greatest nemesis.
Will Kevin Durant every truly be on LeBron James' level?
The thing about LeBron James, though, is even his greatest foe is barely comparable. He's capable of doing things—of carrying teammates and of winning on his own—unlike anyone else, Durant included.
"Kevin's led us to places that a lot of people didn't think we could get to as quickly as we have," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said (via ESPN's Ramona Shelburne).
And he has. But Oklahoma City still came up short, Durant's only fault being that he couldn't do everything. That he's not perfect.
That he's not LeBron.
*All stats in this article were compiled form Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
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