While ESPN's NBA Today panel analyzed the contenders for the 2012 championship, Magic Johnson made a bold assertion: Kevin Durant is the best player in the game. Fans, like Johnson's coworkers, have to question the claim.
Can anyone be better than LeBron James?
I wish I could agree with Magic. I love Durant. He has developed into a full-fledged superstar. He is humble and genuine. There may not be a better person in the league to cheer for.
That being said, it's impossible to put KD above LeBron. They may be equal as scorers, but LeBron James has an all-around game with few flaws. Over the summer, both ESPN and Sports Illustrated's Point Forward crowned King James the best player in the NBA. Aside from Magic Johnson, few people took issue with his ranking.
LeBron James appears to be the perfect basketball player. He has size, strength and speed. In addition to being able to score as effortlessly as anyone playing today, he is an elite passer. His defense is superb. He grabs rebounds as well as any small forward. Most importantly, as was best demonstrated when he played in Cleveland, he makes his teammates better.
What more could you ask for in a basketball player?
Yet James' hold on the top spot is weaker now than it was two years ago when he won his first MVP. It is not because his game has regressed, but rather because of his postseason disappearances.
NBA greats are judged by how they play during late spring and early summer. LeBron was a non-factor in the fourth quarters against Dallas in the Finals. This followed his baffling, apathetic performance against Boston in the 2010 playoffs.
It should be noted that LeBron was phenomenal in the playoffs before the Heat reached the Finals. Somehow this is usually forgotten by those who criticize him.
By not playing at his best when the spotlight was the brightest, though, LeBron left himself vulnerable to criticism. While his recent disappointments have to be factored in when evaluating James, he is still the best player in the NBA.
The reason why LeBron still holds the top spot is that the challengers have not yet proven themselves. It is unlikely that anyone in league right now will ever be as complete as James. However, with a championship, Durant or Derrick Rose or perhaps even Dwight Howard could take the title as best player alive.
LeBron James will have something to say about that. The Heat could be better in 2011-2012 than they were last year. They should cruise to the playoffs. Once there, LeBron will have a chance to redeem himself. He will be able to remind all his critics why no one in the league can compare to him.
The LeBron saga is far from over. He could cement his status as the game's best or he could watch a challenger wrestle away the title.
He has more talent than anyone in the league. Right now, that's enough to consider him the best player in the NBA.
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