As sports fans, one of our most important jobs is to endlessly discuss and quantify greatness in the players we love to watch throughout the years. The arguments about the GOATS and who would win their prime are endless.
We count MVP awards and championship rings, and we over-analyze performance at clutch time, and speculate on whether or not the player deserves to be enshrined in the leagues’ Hall of Fames and all-time greats lists.
All-time great NBA star Dr. Julius Erving made the news this week with his first and second all-time teams, listing the players he believes are essentially the top 10 players in the history of the league. The news wasn’t as much about the names on the list, but instead the name conspicuously left off the list: LeBron James.
— ESPN (@espn) April 28, 2021
The list was praised by some old-timer fans but also more widely panned by current fans of the NBA, not only for the omission of King James but also for placing Michael Jordan on the second team.
It makes you wonder if Irving was just trying to make a point about the current state of competition in the modern NBA. It also makes you wonder: if LeBron James is not a top-10 all-time player, are there other players who could make this list by the time they hang it up?
The player that first comes to mind is Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant. Could Durant end his career as a top-10 all-time player?
Why Kevin Durant Could Be a Top 10 All-Time Player
The best part of trying to analyze the greatness of Kevin Durant on the basketball court is that you get to watch Kevin Durant play basketball. It does not seem possible to have a player with so much size and length be so smooth with the handle and so precise with the shot from anywhere on the court.
Durant is already well known for his elevated play during crunch time. Most famously, to this point in his career, is his game-winning shot in Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals.
But it’s a lot more than some clutch late-game shots. Durant’s 29.09 points per game in the playoffs is fourth all-time. Additionally, Durant’s points per game in the NBA finals (30.6) is almost as high as Michael Jordan’s (33.6). What’s even more impressive than all of that is that Durant’s field goal percentage in the finals (.546) is significantly better than Jordan’s (.481).
This is a player with two NBA Finals wins, two Finals MVP awards, one MVP award, four scoring titles, eleven all-star appearances and counting. At a certain point, does not the resume speak for itself?
Why Kevin Durant will not be a Top 10 all-time player
Durant angered a lot of NBA fans when he left the Oklahoma City Thunder and signed with the Golden State Warriors to team up with the championship duo of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. The question will continue to follow Durant no matter where he goes: would KD have any championship rings without a super team around him?
Another championship win for Durant will not be likely to clear up that criticism among fans, as it will likely come with his current Brooklyn Nets team that sports two other elite-level superstars, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
Where Durant will fall on the list of all-time greats will of course depend on how elite his level of play remains through the twilight years of his career, which have now begun with this new big-time title chances in Brooklyn at age 32. Multiple championships with Brooklyn will likely cement Durant’s place among the greats.
There will be obstacles to Durant climbing the list of all-time greats over the next several seasons. One major one will be his own health and the health of his teammates. There will be crucial battles for the East with some big-time competitors named Giannis Antetekounmpo and Joel Embiid, both with impressive teams around them.
The biggest obstacle in the short term may end up being LeBron James himself. The King just may happen to find himself across from Durant a few more times with the NBA Championship on the line, maybe even as soon as this season.