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Kevin Durant’s legacy

By Brandon Niles EBS Sports Columnist

Kevin Durant is the reigning NBA Finals MVP. After a 4-1 drubbing of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Golden State Warriors are NBA Champions for the second time in three years. In Durant’s first season with the team after nine seasons as the face of the Oklahoma City Thunder, he finally has the championship ring that has eluded him throughout his career.

Because Durant now has a ring, and because he was phenomenal in the playoffs, averaging 28.5 points per game on 55.6 percent shooting, many in the media have discussed Durant’s legacy. In particular, his legacy is being compared to Lebron James, currently the greatest player on earth. Because Durant beat James’ Cavs this season, many have suggested that Durant should be considered the best player in the NBA.

This argument is absurd.

Some may argue that Durant is better than James or that he has cemented his legacy with a Finals Championship. However, the thought that the ring is a difference-maker for a player 10 years into his career makes very little sense. Durant has always been a dominant player and one of the best scorers in the league. He’s a league MVP winner, a four-time scoring champion, and he’s made the last eight All-Star games. Before joining the Warriors last offseason as a free agent, most would’ve argued that Durant was the second or third best player in the league.

What changed since then? Durant jumped ship and joined the most talented team in the NBA. While I don’t begrudge him wanting to do that, it’s hard to argue that joining a team coming off two straight Finals appearances and starring All-NBA point guard Stephen Curry—back-to-back league MVP in 2015 and 2016—adds to his legacy. Durant got his ring in the most dominant season I’ve ever seen by a team, but he got there playing with three other All-Stars who all rank in the top 20 players in basketball by any objective measure. 

Durant was more efficient this season, shooting a career-best 53.7 percent from the field, but that’s to be expected going from a team where he was one of only two stars to a team with three other elite players. Otherwise, Durant’s numbers looked pretty much in line with the rest of his career. His averages of 25.1 points, 4.8 assists and 8.3 rebounds this season were very similar to his 2016 stat line of 28.2, 5.0 and 8.2 with the Thunder.

You can argue that Durant is a great player and you can argue that he’s better than James. But you can’t argue that Durant is better than he was a year ago and that this ring changes his legacy in any way. Durant was a great player on a good team who competed deep in the playoffs for years. Now, he’s a great player in his prime who joined a great time to chase a ring. 

When comparing two star players, an excellent litmus test to me is to swap them. If James was a Warrior and Durant was a Cavalier this season, would the outcome have been different? While we’ll never truly know, I think it’s fair to assume that the Warriors would still have dominated the season, while the Cavs may not have made the Finals. Now remove Durant from the Warriors—they would still be a team that was up 3-1 on the Cavs in the Finals last season after winning it all in 2015. The Warriors would still have been the favorites to at least make the Finals.

I’m not taking away the significance of Durant’s ring, but there’s no way this season changes his legacy. There’s no way this season impacts the Durant versus James discussion, and that won’t change in two years when Durant has three rings either, unless he goes back to Oklahoma City and wins multiple rings there. 

Brandon Niles is a longtime fan of football and scotch, and has been writing about sports for the past decade. He is a fantasy football scout for 4for4 Fantasy Football and is co-host of the 2 Guys Podcast.

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