For the past 20-odd months or so, the question of who is the best basketball player in the world was an easy one to answer: LeBron James. The 4-time MVP and 2-time Finals MVP has been coasting along in the prime of his career with nobody appearing to challenge his seemingly inexorable apogee as a player. Except, occasional murmurings that Kevin Durant was the superior offensive player, even if LeBron was better overall, have crescendoed recently during Durant’s hot streak of 11 straight 30-point games. LeBron’s dominance has shifted over the last month, and now KD is in the driver’s seat for the NBA MVP as their two teams prepare to face off for the first time this season tonight.
James is aware of the altered MVP landscape even as he shoots a career-best 58 percent from the floor this season. Perhaps it’s his career-low 36.9 minutes per game, career-low assists and rebounds per game, or a somewhat lackadaisical defensive start â€” for LeBron, at least â€” to the season after the Heat captured their second straight title last June, but Durant’s numbers have surged past LeBron’s and we’re not just talking scoring, either.
Brian Windhorst pointed out the differences in his piece for ESPN yesterday where he detailed how Durant has become the front-runner for the league MVP this year. In that piece, Windhorst mentions how James is well aware of the hype that’s surrounded Durant’s January-to-remember.
But James is attempting a career-low 16.4 shots per game this year. Combine that with the decrease in playing time, and for the first time in LeBron’s career, one where he’s complained often about shouldering such a huge role, he’s actively complaining about his lack of shots, and said Tuesday “I don’t like playing less, I don’t feel like I need to play less. Don’t ever put it out there that LeBron wants to play less.”
This augments the reports earlier this month that James was “jealous” of all of Durant’s scoring attempts, even as Durant accurately pointed out that James “can do whatever he wants.” Early on in his Miami tenure, James complained behind-the-scenes about all the responsibility he had on both sides of the court, and who can forget how much he had to do to make the Cavs contenders every year with a subpar lineup of cobbled-together role players.
Now LeBron’s headlining the 2-time defending champs with two other all-stars buttressing his excellence in Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Meanwhile, Durant has been on a rampage this year even though his fellow All-Star, Russell Westbrook, has sat out 21 games with multiple knee surgeries.
Durant is winning praise all over the league for his various thunderclaps against opposing defenses. He dropped a career-high against Stephen Curry and the Dubs; he’s shown a new-found ability to distribute when teams load-up on him, and he’s dropping 40 points seemingly every night while hitting clutch shots to keep the Thunder at the top with a Western Conference-leading 36-10 mark through the season’s midway point.