Finding a comparison for Kevin Durant has always been impossible.
From the moment he entered the league in 2007, he was a gifted scorer. Seven feet tall, with impossible length, his movements on the floor seem alien-like — like he was created in a laboratory to play basketball. If LeBron James is the cerebral pinnacle of the NBA, Kevin Durant is gifted talent in its most raw form. He’s tall, he can shoot, he can leap, and he can do all these things well enough to have a career scoring average of 27.2 points. That’s fourth all-time, behind just Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, and Elgin Baylor.
In the last two seasons, we’ve seen him defend at an All-NBA level too. With Oklahoma City, he was able to affect Golden State’s drives to the basket in last year’s instant classic of a Western Conference Final. Despite his slender appearance, he was completely able to hold his own at the power forward position and play free safety. With the Warriors and Draymond Green, he’s even more mobile — able to close long spaces of basketball floor with one stride, blocking or changing shots all over the floor.
So if Kevin Durant, now 28 years old and at the height of his powers on both ends of the floor, is as great as his play suggests, why haven’t we started his legacy conversation?
Coming into this NBA Finals series, the main figurehead was LeBron James. Already a champion three times and dominant in his run of success in the Eastern Conference (12 years and counting), James has been public in his chase for the greatest of all-time. As our Joshua Howe so artfully put it on this site last week, this is a complex comparison — and one that’s inhaled the NBA conversation. LeBron or Jordan? Modern basketball or that of yesteryear? Because James is playing a team as brilliant as the Golden State Warriors, his David vs. Goliath story is even more intriguing because he seems on the verge of overtaking Jordan.
James’ orbit is powerful, and it’s swallowed Kevin Durant’s ability to pass him objectively. While Durant’s play has overshadowed all comers in the first two games of the Finals, nobody seems all that entertained by the basketball machine. Scoring 71 points on 27-for-48 shooting would be enough to draw widened eyeballs in any other year, but because of Durant’s offseason circumstances, they seem tainted.
So much had to happen to bring Durant to a 73-win Golden State team. His willingness was the least of these factors — who wouldn’t want to sign a max contract for a team that was one Kyrie Irving shot away from winning the title? The salary cap spike happened at a perfect time, allowing the Warriors the space to sign him while keeping their other three Hall of Fame assets in Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.
Then, once he got there, the Warriors were downright boring in their excellence. They sleepwalked through the regular season, and are now 15–0 in the playoffs with only three victories closer than 10 points. They’ve been the biggest villains in what’s become the most boring, uncompetitive playoffs in recent NBA history.
Durant and the Warriors are so great, so unassailable, that they’ve turned LeBron James — the best player in the game for over a decade — into an underdog once again. They’ve actually made James’ case against Jordan stronger in some respects. Jordan never had to go through a team like Golden State to win one of his six championships, much less do so three times in as many years.
Even with LeBron fighting, we know what’s happening here after three games. The Warriors will win the title, in four or five games. They will be the best team — by far — going into next season. Kevin Durant will continue to make shots with the graceful ease we’ve seen over the last 10 seasons.
It just isn’t as definitive when there’s no competition, though. Finding Durant’s legacy will be an ongoing and frustrating conversation around the NBA. Deciding whether he deserves a third seat at LeBron and MJ’s table will take time, and perhaps moreso because of who Durant has chosen to surround himself with.
Context is everything in the NBA, and finding a comparison for Kevin Durant continues to be an impossibility.