March 7, 2014

Fightin' Words: Is LeBron or KD the better individual?

Adam Troxtell
The Express-Star


So after LeBron's big 61 point outing against Charlotte, of course ESPN went into overdrive about what this meant regarding his status in the game.

Then Russell Westbrook had to speak up after Oklahoma City's win over Philly, and now it's back on our minds once again: who is better, the King or KD?

Before I divulge, let's set a few things straight. Westbrook said after the Thunder's trouncing of the 76ers that if Durant had stayed in the game more he "could have scored 70." Well, Russell, could have, would have, should have; it doesn't matter now. The facts are Durant still scored an impressive 42 points, and LeBron's 61 points mean no less and no more.

I'm also not too big a fan of saying who is the best regarding players whose careers are still unfolding, because what is true now may not be years from now. Who knows? Maybe Durant's final years are less of an ease into retirement and basketball greatness than LeBron's, or vice versa. Maybe LeBron maintains his edge in championship rings. These things have to be considered.

So let's start with what we know now. Part of determining who is the best individual is affected by who means more to their team. While the Thunder team as a whole has solid defensive players, they really have two consistent threats in the attack: Durant and Westbrook. Durant's 31.7 points per game reflect this, while LeBron stands at 27.4.

James attempts less shots (17.4) and makes less shots (10.1) than James, yet maintains a 58 percent shooting average compared to Durant's 51 percent. But look into this further, and things get a little less concrete. Durant tops LeBron in both three-point shooting (39.5 percent) while taking and making more. He also leads in free-throw shooting (87.4 percent), also while taking and making more. It appears the midrange game is the one place LeBron excels.

But James also averages more assists (6.4) and less turnovers (3.4) per game than KD. This could indicate the fact that Miami simply have more offensive weapons than Oklahoma City, thus enabling LeBron to spread the ball around more effectively. That leads to the question of whether or not he makes his team better or his team makes him better.

Chris Andersen will be our guinea pig. In his ten NBA seasons before joining the Heat, the tattooed big man averaged 50.8 percent from the field. In two seasons with the Heat, he is averaging 51.6 percent, and last year was his highest post season field goal percentage at 80.7. He also took his most postseason shots, 57.

In contrast, let's look at Kevin Martin. In his previous eight seasons before joining Oklahoma, he averaged 49.2 percent shooting. Martin shot 45 percent in his one season with the Thunder, although he did have his highest percentage from three-point land (42.6) while taking the second most three-point shots in his career.

While being with a star-studded team like the Heat does contribute to the rise in Andersen's numbers, the fact that this team includes LeBron and his higher assist average, the stats show James has a bigger influence on the players around him. And why wouldn't he? Oklahoma relies on KD big time, perhaps too much. He carries the offensive weight, and while he does it to perfection, it doesn't always add up to more points for those around him.

Durant's defensive stats stand out. He averages 7.7 rebounds per game, compared to Lebron's 6.9, and 0.8 blocks per game. 

There is, of course, the personality perception. Durant's picture would surely show up beside the word "humble" in any dictionary, while LeBron carries himself in a more confident way. But why wouldn't he? Back-to-back championships in Miami don't lie, while Durant is still waiting on his first ring.

And in the end, while niceties may tug on fans' hearts, they don't do anything toward points. Stats show that, currently, LeBron is the better player. But can't we all just enjoy these guys while they last? After raking through all of this, I know I will.