How could I have missed the remarkable similarities through my surveying of the Association? While I have admired and respected the overall amazing scoring aptitude of Kevin Durant, I’ve yet to see the correspondence to another of the great players in the game: LeBron James.
These two stars of the game represent a sort of crooked parallel, both earning praise for their offensive competence, but they go about dominance in entirely different manners. This is partly inspired by the recent claims by an NBA source that Kevin Durant has the potential to be superior to LeBron James at the conclusion of his career. The validity of the claim is in question, but the similarities of the two are quite evident.
Durant’s play is so stunning that I think defenders stop to admire the play instead of focusing on putting a hand in his face. Drafted out of Texas as the alternative to Greg Oden, Durant was placed on a rebuilding franchise in Seattle with essentially no help and a barren bench. Left to carry the load of a franchise in flux, Durant averaged just over twenty points earning rookie of the year honors and escorting the Sonics to a horrid twenty win season.
Despite his heroic actions, the Seattle franchise was sold and seemingly immediately moved to Oklahoma City. The newly christened Thunder expected big things from their stud swingman whose ease of scoring was incredulous. Drafting Russell Westbrook to aid Kevin in his struggle to prop up an atrocious franchise, Oklahoma City hoped to vastly improve their team after their supremely disappointing season the year prior.
Again, Durant’s scoring acumen was exhibited while his team struggled to stay afloat. His scoring averages boosted to a fantastic 25 points per game, also notching a record high in the rookie-sophomore for points and winning the first H-O-R-S-E All-Star challenge, defeating OJ Mayo and Joe Johnson. In spite of Durant’s level of excellence while scoring, the inaugural season for the Thunder ended hardly better than the previous one. The win total increased slightly, and the Thunder landed once again in the lottery for the draft.
Like Durant, LeBron entered the league expected to rescue an ailing franchise from the depths of draft lotteries and losing streaks. The #1 pick in 2003, LeBron joined a Cleveland franchise desperate for victories and not close to smelling the playoffs. Again like Durant, James averaged near 20 PPG and was the main scoring option for a team destined to miss the playoffs.
James earned himself ROY honors and praise as the next big thing in the Association all while leading Cleveland to 35 victories. The next season, James again led the Cavs without hardly any help to increased values in victories and scoring. LeBron increased his scoring to around 27 PPG (slightly higher than Durant) and led the Cavs to a 42-win season. The win total made even more astounding considering the pre-James Cavaliers struggled to win 17 games.
The similarity ends at the majority share of scoring and playing on teams that failed to make the playoffs. The way they approach scoring the rock and how they perform the other aspects of the game are opposites.
Durant’s frail-looking body is the most glaring and obvious example of the dissimilarities. His lean frame drummed up concerns about his ability to compete with the men in the Association. Would he be able to fight for the rebound? Can he muscle down into the painted area?
There were no such concerns about LeBron’s body when he entered the league. Referred to as a “man-child”, his chiseled body intimidates as well as facilitates his style of play. Even as a rookie, his muscular frame earned praise and shock, leaving many disbelieving. Now, after bulking up with intense workout regimens, LeBron has a newfound ability to play in either the post or outside without much hassle.
There are more differences than body type for these two basketball studs. The ways they attack on offense are two entirely different realms of glory, each effective and brilliant while utilizing the best abilities of each of the players.
Durant is not the brash player who tries to split defenders on the way to the basket in order to attempt to draw the foul. He is the sweet shooting forward who can stroke the ball from anywhere on the court. His free throw shooting hovers above 80 percent, excellent regardless of position or ability. The three-point range is somewhat of a newfound ability, but not at all unexpected. His shooting is something that LeBron could only dream about, with limitless range and a tremendous ability to get open looks. His style is essentially Tim Duncan without the post game and with tremendous shooting ability. It is so mechanically mundane and expected while still maintaining near perfection that it is nearly ignored because of the team he plays on.
LeBron is an entirely different kind of player than Durant. He is that beast who is gaining comfort with his shot but has perfected the drive to the basket. His powerful frame enables him to drive and bounce defenders off like a pinball while still remaining as agile as a point guard, taking flight and dunking over the opponent’s center. His strategy is to draw the defense into him in order to create a foul opportunity or dish to his waiting teammates. While his shooting accuracy experiences more ups-and-downs than Cedar Point patrons, his consistency is improving with each passing season.
In addition to attacking the basket like an enraged bull that has seen red, LeBron approaches the rest of the game differently. LeBron entered the league with an innate awareness of the court and everyone on it. Experts raved about his Magicesque highlight reel worthy passing and no-look dishes to his teammates trailing him on the fast break. Quite simply, Durant doesn’t have that natural god-given ability to find the open man without hesitation. He was bred to be a scorer, an unadulterated scoring machine who has an insatiable thirst to put the ball in the basket. His assist numbers are the typical forward numbers, able to notch a couple, sometimes surprisingly beautiful ones, but not enough to significantly alter the game. LeBron is the exception to the rule that small forwards are strict scorers/defenders; he is able to pass almost as miraculously as Steve Nash or Chris Paul.
LeBron is also leaps and bounds ahead of KD in the rebounding department. Every night LeBron is a legitimate threat to post a triple-double against every single opponent, and rebounding has become somewhat of a natural thing for him. His rebounding numbers are consistently lingering around double-digits. Durant, while maintaining an eagle-like wingspan of 7’4”, struggles to rub elbows with the beasts in the paint and compete for rebounds.
But the most disparaging difference between the two dominating forwards is in the most vital stat in the game: wins. The impact of LeBron was felt immediately, like an asteroid destined to cause a mass extinction. The Cavaliers’ win total went from a measly 17 wins, to 35 wins, to 42 wins in just two seasons after drafting LeBron. Within four years LeBron summoned the might to overcome the vaunted Detroit Pistons and reach the Finals, ultimately losing to the superior Spurs. His presence alone has revived the Cleveland franchise and wills them to an inordinate amount of victories. Even when he is surrounded with dreadful teammates (Larry Hughes, Ronald Murray, Ira Newble, Sasha Pavlovic, Damon Jones, etc.) James is able to lead the Cavs to over fifty victories.
Durant has not been so lucky or talented. The Sonics/Thunder have struggled to win games to depressing extremes. The combined win total is somewhere south of 50 victories despite fantastic play by Kevin. His impact is, hopefully for Oklahoma City fans, more like a volcanic eruption miles away. While you may feel a tiny rumble beneath your feet and hear a faint booming in the distance, the true impact is hidden in time only to be discovered far too late to help those struggling against its might. Three or four years from now, Durant may be heading an ultra-talented team that frequently competes for Western Conference supremacy. Or he may be George Gervin and wallow around incompetent teammates that offer little to no support for his talents and efforts.
LeBron is a player who is transcendent in ways that Durant simply cannot be in his current form. James is a freak of nature hybrid who dominates the league with relative ease. Durant, while not typical by any stretch of the imagination, is the prototypical scoring forward with 25’ range. LeBron is the child of destiny, ordained to reign over the league for multiple seasons and win multiple titles. Durant is no such mythological beast, instead destined to score and score a lot. He will likely win copious amounts of scoring titles, but the odds of him winning a championship are slightly more ambiguous.
The bottom line is that LeBron is a much more advanced player than Durant is on nearly every level of the game. Most critics and experts agree that he will walk away from the game with at least one championship if not several. The verdict is still out on Durant who, while brilliant, struggles to bring in wins like LeBron seems able to do. If Durant can finally attain his man-body and commit to defense as LeBron seemingly has, then the odds of him coming out of his career the superior player increases. But, that is not likely, considering the potential of LeBron being ranked as one of the top 5 players ever to walk this earth.