Will Kevin Durant’s return to the NBA mark the return of the league’s best player?
While most debate who is greater between LeBron James and Michael Jordan, some think LeBron has a battle on his hands with another legendary champion.
As James’ career continues to play, many believe he has a claim to the title of greatest player of all-time.
But Toni Kukoc, a former teammate of Michael Jordan’s and co-star of The Last Dance, said this week that he doesn’t believe James is currently the best player in the NBA.
Toni Kukoc: “Kevin Durant, to me in my personal opinion, is the best player in the NBA”
| Eurohoops https://t.co/G4Y5BQb3Dh
— Eurohoops (@Eurohoopsnet) May 11, 2020
In a question and answer segment on Reddit, Kukoc suggested Durant is the evolution of the NBA:
“Plenty of times LeBron is mistaken as a point guard, which is awesome. Kevin Durant, to me in my personal opinion, is the best player in the NBA. He can easily bring the ball up the floor. That’s a style that the triangle offense allowed that any one of us could run the point or be a post person or fill the corners. It’s not requirement to have a point guard, you can have skill players with 3 or 4 guys on the same team playing multiple positions.”
Durant certainly has a case to make. He is a 2-time champion and 2-time NBA Finals MVP with the Golden State Warriors. And both of his championship wins came over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In the 2017 NBA Finals, Durant averaged 35.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1 steal and 1.6 blocks. He shot 55 percent from the field, 47 percent from three and 93 percent from the line. James averaged 33.6 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, 1.4 steals and 1 block. He shot 56 percent from the field, 39 percent from three and 65 percent from the line. Golden State won the series, 4-1.
In the 2018 NBA Finals, Durant averaged 28.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 2.3 blocks, while shooting 52 percent from the field, 41 percent from three and 96 percent from the free throw line. James averaged 34 points, 8.5 rebounds, 10 assists and 1.3 steals, while shooting 52 percent from the field, 33 percent from three and 84 percent from the line. The Warriors won the series, 4-0.
The stats, regardless of their rosters, are quite comparable.
Skip Bayless, however, believes it goes even deeper than the head-to-head matchups between the two players, detailing how Durant’s skillset, combined with his size, makes him a one-of-a-kind player.
“When he comes back next year, he’ll immediately re-establish himself as the best player on the planet. He’s a 7-foot monster with a 7’5″ wingspan. He’s the best mid-range jump shooter we’ve seen in this league since Michael Jefferey Jordan, he can really protect the rim and he can really rebound.”
"Kevin Durant is the best player on the planet. He's beaten LeBron James head-to-head in 2 Finals in which he was the Finals MVP; He's the best mid-range jump shooter we've seen since Jordan; He's been a candidate for DPOY and almost a 90% career FT shooter." — @RealSkipBayless pic.twitter.com/kst0qEtiLe
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) May 12, 2020
On ESPN’s First Take, Stephen A. Smith didn’t specifically say he thinks Durant has surpassed James as the game’s best player, but he did say that KD would be the ideal running mate for Jordan, even above James.
“When I think about what this brother brings to the table at 6’11 with his shooting skills, his ability to spread the floor, and his length and lankiness as a defender … He’s a marksman extraordinaire and can get his shot off at any time, which means he can spread the floor. Plus, he’s a significantly better free throw shooter than LeBron James.”
Though the argument for Durant is compelling, Shannon Sharpe still believes James is still king, and that Durant can only match LeBron as a scorer.
“James and Durant score pretty much the same, LeBron averages more rebounds, more assists, shoots a higher field goal percentage from the floor. We have yet to see Kevin Durant consistently, game in and game out, year in and year out, be the point of emphasis as far as initiating the offense. That’s not what he does, that’s not what he’s good at.”
"LeBron can do more things than KD. We have yet to see KD consistently be the point of emphasis as far as initiating the offense. For Kukoc to say KD's the best player in the NBA having not seeing him in a year, I don't know how he can come to that conclusion."
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) May 12, 2020
Before the 2019-20 season was suspended on March 11, James was one of the leading candidates for league MVP honors, battling for the award with Milwaukee Bucks superstar and reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
James had guided the Lakers to the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference while averaging 25.7 points and a league-leading 10.6 assists. Durant has missed the entire season due to his Achilles injury.
LeBron James' performances against Bucks and Clippers earn him 'MVP' accolades https://t.co/WKz4UFgj0H
— Brad Turner (@BA_Turner) March 9, 2020
The GOAT debate will continue to rage between James and Jordan.
But if he returns the way he left, Durant might be the next name to enter the GOAT conversation.