As LeBron James capped off quite the spectacular year with a gold medal win over Spain in the Olympics, it sparked the most popular debate in the sport of basketball: Who is the greatest player ever?
Jim Boeheim got the ball rolling saying he used to think Michael Jordan was the greatest player ever but after spending six weeks with LeBron, was no longer sure about that.
Then everybody started voicing their opinions.
That’s enough about that though. What I’m curious about is where Kevin Durant fits in with all of this. When his career is over, where will we remember him on the hierarchy of greatest players ever?
Durant just finished his fifth season in the NBA so yes, it’s early on. But he’s already challenging LeBron in some respects and is widely considered the second best player in the NBA right now at just 23 years old. He won his third straight scoring title last season, has finished second in the MVP voting twice and has already led his team to the NBA Finals.
More than any other player in the NBA, Durant was put on earth to play basketball and to score in particular. But he’s not from the same mold as Jordan, LeBron or Kobe so we rarely talk about Durant as someone who could go down as the greatest ever. He’s been more one-dimensional so far in his career too, viewed as just a scorer who isn’t a great passer or defender yet.
Those things are all true and that’s why no one talks about him yet as a potential G.O.A.T. but he still has a very good chance to go down as a top ten or maybe even top five player ever.
Durant’s shot at being remembered that good will have a lot to do with team success. Right now he is part of the best young team in the NBA that is already good enough to compete for an NBA title. It’s easy to look at the Thunder as a team that will be able to compete for a championship for the next decade. They’ve been compared to and are modeled after the San Antonio Spurs, who won four titles in the Duncan era from 1998 until now. If Durant can do the same kind of thing in OKC, he will be remembered in a similar light as Duncan.
Durant also has a chance to go down as a historically great statistical player. He is obviously on pace to score about as many points as anyone ever. Durant’s game is still evolving though so it’s tough to know if he will be able to sustain being such a high-scorer later in his career.
To do this he will have to start going into the post more. He started doing this some last season and even implemented Dirk’s patented stepback jumper. If Durant can learn more from Dirk and develop the kind of post-up game Dirk has had these past few seasons, that would seem the most likely way to keep scoring at the clip he has been.
The top five scorers in NBA history right now are Kareem, Mailman, Jordan, Wilt and Kobe in that order. LeBron has a good shot to get into the top five by the end of his career. If Durant plays long enough, he has a really good chance to pass Malone and get within striking distance of Kareem or wherever Kobe ends up.
The other factor in determining Durant’s greatness is how good of a shooter he is. He has a legitimate chance to go down being remembered as the best shooter to ever play in the NBA. It’s something that isn’t debated about as much really because it’s hard to say what constitutes being the best shooter ever is.
We have Reggie Miller and Ray Allen who are known as the best 3-point shooters ever. Then there’s Bird, Dirk, Maravich and Nash who are often in the conversation. You can even make a case for a player like Steve Kerr as one of the best shooters ever.
Durant could define the debate with what he has a chance to do in his career. To be as skilled as he is at 7-foot tall with the kind of range he has is unprecedented. It would be hard for him to touch Reggie or Ray in terms of career threes made but he has a relatively easy chance to become third on the all-time list (now held by Jason Kidd).
Durant is a career 88 percent free throw shooter as well and shot just under 50 percent from the field last season. If he can string together some 50-40-90 shooting seasons while still scoring as much as he does, it will become tough to argue that he isn’t the greatest shooter ever.
So let’s say Durant wins like three NBA titles, retires as the league’s third all-time leading scorer, top five in points per game for his career and makes the third most threes all-time, that would put him right up there with some of the greats of all-time.
Again, it’s early and that’s a lot of pressure and expectations to meet but I kind of see that as his relatively conceivable ceiling. He’d end up right around Duncan-Shaq-Moses-West in the greatest of all-time rankings. I’d be good with that.
Topics: Best Shooter In The NBA, Dirk Nowitzki, Greatest Nba Player Ever, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Oklahoma City Thunder, Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, Tim Duncan