Picking Side in LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant Debate Misses the Point

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2014

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 25: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder guards LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat during a Christmas Day game on December 25, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice: Copyright NBAE 2012 (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

LeBron James or Kevin Durant

That's the question springing to the forefront of most NBA discussions now that the latter has been absolutely lighting up the scoreboard in recent days. Over his last five games, the Oklahoma City Thunder forward is averaging 40.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 6.2 assists per contest, and he's shooting 59.5 percent from the field and 56.3 percent beyond the arc. 

Of course, that's sparked plenty of debate.

There isn't much controversy about whether or not Durant is the leading MVP candidate during the 2013-14 campaign. To think otherwise is rather nonsensical at this stage of the season, especially because Durant has done such an excellent job sparking OKC while his point guard Russell Westbrook has missed time.

But that's not where the discussion stops.

The Debate

Feb 14, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) handles the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) during the second half at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.  Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

When you're the best, people want to come after your crown. On top of that, the general public wants people to come after your crown, as change is usually preferable to the status quo. Why do you think voter fatigue exists?

LeBron has been on top of the basketball world for a few years now, and a shakeup is desired in some circles.

Although Durant has been the primary challenger for quite some time, he's always been well behind the league's reigning MVP. Calling him the No. 1 player in the world was as nonsensical as denying his supremacy in the current race for the Association's biggest individual award.

But that's changed. 

Whether you want to put LeBron or Durant in your No. 1 spot is now a matter of personal opinion.

For me, the Miami Heat superstar has enough of a track record that it takes more than a 15-game stretch of absolute dominance from Durant to shake things up. For some, the best player in the world has to be whoever's playing best, and that viewpoint forces LeBron off the top of the basketball totem pole.

Regardless of the side you choose, there is now a debate. A debate that shouldn't exist, but a debate nonetheless.

Arguing for one or the other inherently involves putting down the other.

If you're on the Durant side, you're going to point at LeBron's lack of sheer dominance in 2013-14, declining individual defense and inability to post gaudy scoring numbers for the Heat.

If you still support LeBron, you're going to poke holes in Durant's track record. You'll also point to his lesser defensive skills and note that his scoring outburst hasn't been filled with victory after victory for the Thunder.

Either way, you're completely missing the point.

We don't have to pick one over the other. We don't have to battle over which superstar is the superior player right now, because that answer is going to reveal itself naturally in due time. 

We're inevitably going to get involved in the debate anyway, but why can't we just enjoy the sheer dominance of two very different players? That's what should be most important, as these are two largely unique players who both deserve to be revered for their on-court contributions.

Yes, both are basketball players. Yes, both play the same position. Yes, both post ridiculous statistical outputs with mind-blowing frequency.

But despite the similarities, they're akin to apples and oranges. Instead of trying to rank them as fruits, just enjoy the merits that each one has to offer as an individual.

Enjoying Durant

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JANUARY 21: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder taking a shot during a game against the Portland Trailblazers  on January 21, 2014 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknow
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

With Durant, take the time to soak in what has become must-watch television.

When the Thunder are playing, regardless of the opponent, you can't help but exhibit a bit of tunnel vision. The scoring machine demands your complete and undivided attention now that Russell Westbrook is off the court. You almost have to hope he touches the ball on every single possession.

One game, you just may be treated to a display of individual dominance like this:

Fifty-four points can't be sneezed at, especially when they're earned in a way that actually looks—dare I say it?—easy.

Durant's crossovers are impressive, especially for a player with so much height and length. His drives to the hoop are nearly unstoppable, as he takes such long strides and changes direction on a dime, leaving a trail of defenders in his wake.

But nothing tops the smoothness of his jumper.

Whether he's spotting up and awaiting a pass from a teammate, pulling up in transition, rising up after a lateral drive or hitting one of his patented one-legged jumpers, the ball looks like a homing missile set on the middle of the hoop.

At times you have to wonder whether or not the NBA should consider shrinking the circumference of the basket. Durant makes it look like a hula hoop, and it really doesn't seem fair for the rest of the competition.

During this run, it's been legitimately shocking whenever one of Durant's shots clangs off the rim. Plus, many of his misses have been of the roll-around-the-iron-and-then-somehow-fail-to-fall variety. 

We've come to expect ridiculous scoring performances, and 30 points doesn't seem to be all that excellent for the league's leading scorer.

You know, even though only a dozen people have topped the 30-point barrier for an entire season since the turn of the century. Even though no one has done so since the 2009-10 season, when it was—you guessed it—Durant who hit the mark.

Still Enjoying LeBron

MIAMI, FL- JANUARY 21:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat during the game against the Boston Celtics at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida on January 21, 2014.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or us
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

All the while, 30 points would be a sensational outing for LeBron these days, especially because he's become so ultra-conscious of his shooting percentages. He seems to strive for a field-goal percentage upward of 60.

"I don’t really set out goals as far as what I want to shoot from the field,” James told Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald before the start of the 2013-14 season. “I know I want to take good shots and I know I want to be in attack and if that results in [60 percent] then it will be great, but I want to get the best shot for myself and for our team every possession.”

The reigning MVP has turned out to be fairly prescient. He's shooting 58 percent from the field and has teetered right on the brink of the coveted 60 throughout the campaign. It's kept him from posting ridiculous scoring totals like Durant, but it's made him more efficient than ever before. 

LeBron has hit the 30-point barrier 14 times this year, but his overall scoring numbers are still down. He's taking a career-low 16 field-goal attempts per game, and that speaks to his willingness to maximize those attempts while doing everything else on the court.

And that's what makes LeBron so special.

Watching the Heat's best player is almost like watching a living, breathing textbook, one who hurtles up and down the court with a combination of size and athleticism that hasn't been matched by any other player since Wilt Chamberlain.

He's programmed to make the right basketball play at all times, even if it comes at the expense of his own statistics.

When you watch LeBron, you never know what kind of night you're going to get.

Maybe he's going to explode as a scorer. Maybe he's going to crash the boards and make up for Miami's size deficit. Maybe he's going to record a dollar's worth of dimes by heavily involving his teammates. Maybe he's going to lock down on defense.

Regardless of the method he chooses, he's going to provide a dominant showing, and it's one that is starting to combine equal parts of power and finesse on a more regular basis.

Don't Miss the Point(s)

Why are these mutually exclusive wonders? Why can't we appreciate both Durant and LeBron for the players they are?

It's understandable that such debates exist, but they detract from our ability to witness greatness. Although perhaps I shouldn't use that verb in this context.

Instead of getting riled up when someone's opinion doesn't mesh perfectly with yours, try to appreciate what you have the privilege of watching night in and night out.

Debate more important things.

You know, like whether or not Slim Reaper is a good nickname for Durant.

Hint: It's not.   


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