LeBron James‘ venture West has resulted in the return of the best player in the NBA debate, which the King had dominated for the past decade.
The King is far from dead.
Rumours of James’ demise have been greatly exaggerated in this hyperbolic media landscape we live in. LeBron suffered perhaps the worst injury of his career, a groin injury which kept him out for 17 games, in the middle of a promising season. LeBron and the young Lakers were the 4th seed in the West and had just routed the Golden State Warriors 127-101 on Christmas Day when LeBron went down. Along with leading the Lakers young core and merry-band of one-year free agents, LeBron averaged 27.4 points, 8.3 assists and 8.5 rebounds in supposedly ‘the worst year of his career’. However, James did not make the play-offs this season, the first time since the 2004/05 season. This has allowed for the return of the question: who is the best player in the world?
Kevin Durant bested LeBron one-on-one in the 2017 finals and again in 2018, albeit with a far superior supporting cast, Durant himself has felt that he is the best in the world.
Since then the murmurs supporting this argument have only gotten louder. Currently, Durant is playing his best basketball since he arrived at Golden State. A large statement to make since Durant has two rings and two Finals MVPs under his belt as a Warrior.
So far in the 2019 playoffs, KD has averaged 34 points per game including 45 and 50 point highlight games against the Clippers.
At times Durant seems unstoppable, the slim-reaper may be now known as the snake due to his decisions off the court, but the moniker also suits him on the court. The perfect blend of ball-handling, height, speed and shooting, Durant silently glides around the court with the smoothness of a snake and before you know it, your team is already down 15. If Kevin Durant continues his impressive playoff form, as well as adding another ring to his collection, he may just accomplish what he set out to do by joining Golden State in 2016, the public’s validation and the title of best player in the world.
If Kevin Durant silently glides around court like a vengeful spectre, then Giannis Antetokounmpo thunders around the court channelling Zeus himself, bending his opponents will.
Giannis has been on the cusp of breaking-out for a few seasons now. But the moment the rest of the NBA has feared has finally come to pass. Giannis is here, and nobody is safe. We haven’t seen such a dominant player since prime Shaquille O’Neal. Comparing the two, in Shaq’s prime season, 1999-2000, O’Neal averaged 29.7 points per game, as well as getting to the line 10.4 times a game. This season Giannis is averaging 27.7 points per game with 9.5 free-throw attempts per game. Leading the small-market Milwaukee Bucks to the first seed in the East, Giannis has been on a mission this season to prove to the rest of the NBA that, not only has he arrived, but that he’s the best in the world. If Giannis can lead this scrappy Bucks team to the NBA Finals or even beat the Golden State Warriors in a head-to-head match-up with Kevin Durant, then Giannis should be crowned the best in the world.
Antetokuounmpo’s main competition for the MVP award, James Harden has done a lot to cement himself as the best guard in the league, but now Harden must be in the conversation for best in the world.
Despite Harden being the best guard in the league, his unorthodox play-style attracts a lot of criticism such as ‘tricking the refs’, ‘flopping’ or ‘chucking up threes’. Whether or not you believe Harden and the Rockets’ style of play is ‘anti-basketball’ or not is up for debate.
What isn’t up for debate are the figures. Throughout the regular season, Harden averaged an astounding 36.1 points per game. Harden scored between 30-39 points twenty-nine times, 40-49 points eighteen times and 50+ points nine times. The highlight of this scoring coming against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden – 61 points. Despite Harden’s regular season dominance, there will still be question marks surrounding his best in the world status if he can’t either reach the NBA Finals or win the NBA Finals.
The 2019 NBA play-offs hold the answer to the question of who the best player in the NBA is. The real question is – who is gonna step up and come for The King’s throne? KD, Giannis or Harden, or maybe an outsider? One thing’s for sure, the best in the world debate is back, and will surely dominate many a conversation between NBA fans from now until the end of the playoffs.