LeBron James has been the best player in the NBA for a decade, probably starting from May 31, 2007. That’s the night he hung 48 on the Pistons in an epic performance that included 25 straight points late in the game. The Cavs would go on to get swept in the Finals by the Spurs, but LeBron had arrived as the most unstoppable force in the NBA. Kobe and Dirk and Derrick Rose and Stephen Curry and others would capture MVP awards, but few would argue LeBron was still the best.
Now at the age of 32, after seven straight trips to the Finals and the 2nd most minutes in playoff history, peak LeBron is being met at the summit by peak Kevin Durant, who is younger, fresher, on a better team and in a better system.
Through two games in the Finals, Durant has played LeBron to a standstill, the Warriors have won both games comfortably, and the torch is being passed from the 2nd greatest player in NBA history to Durant, whose star is ascending now that he’s free from the shackles of a shoot-first point guard.
Kevin Durant LeBron James
56% FG 55% FG
50% 3FG 33% 3FG
35.5 ppg 28.5 ppg
11 rpg 13 rpg
7 apg 11 apg
2.5 blocks 1.5 blocks
1.5 steals 1.5 steals
This is not reducing the discussion to “Kevin Durant is better than LeBron.” But right now, at 28 years old, having played in less than half as many playoff games as LeBron, having played less than half as many minutes, Durant is taking the torch from LeBron as the best player in the NBA.
Durant’s career has been riddled with injuries; LeBron has been a cyborg for 14 years. Look at the career numbers:
LeBron regular season games: 1060
LeBron regular season minutes: 41,272
Kevin Durant regular season games: 703
Kevin Durant regular season minutes: 26,278
If you want to count regular season and playoff games, LeBron has essentially played five more seasons than Durant.
It really is amazing what LeBron is doing at 32. He’ll turn 33 in December. Here are a few superstars who were out of the NBA at age 33: Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, and Tracy McGrady. At 33, Larry Bird’s body was broken, and the Celtics lost in the first round.
LeBron is physically dominant because he’s got John Wall’s speed in Karl Malone’s body. But right now, Durant is the most complete offensive talent in the game. He’s basically a 7-footer who can shoot over any forward you put on him, and post up any guard you try to stop him with. He’ll take you off the dribble or splash 25-footers in your face. Durant’s led the league in scoring four times, and won an MVP. Why are we only seeing this now?
Sometimes, you need the right system and the right teammates to flourish. Some – Magic Johnson and Larry Bird – came into the league and joined good teams loaded with talent. Others – Michael Jordan – took years to reach that apex. Jordan entered the league and needed seven years to reach the Finals, when he took the torch from Magic. Jordan never handed the torch to anyone – he just left the NBA.