Kevin Durant is now the best player in the NBA
If you’re reading that headline and thinking to yourself, “Whoa whoa, Kevin Durant was the best player alive in 2017 or 2018 also,”, I think you may well have a point. But Durant did miss a full season with a severe Achilles injury since then. He has now regained (or finally gained depending on your vantage point) his place at the very top with the Brooklyn Nets.
Experts and analysts would seem to agree on one thing: Kevin Durant is the best player in the entire league right now.
When you last saw KD, he was sans Kyrie Irving, who suffered a nasty ankle sprain during game four of the Eastern Conference Semis against the eventual champions, the Bucks. Kevin Durant had already been without perennial MVP candidate James Harden, who reaggravated a hamstring injury he dealt with throughout the regular season. And Durant still was just one shoe-size away from dealing the fatal blow to all three of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday in that fateful game seven. The Nets would have wound up hosting the Atlanta Hawks if they’d won and who knows how far they might have gone after that.
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Durant’s foot on the line sends the game to OT, where Kevin Durant runs out of gas and the Bucks pull it off
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Final score: Bucks 115, Nets 111 (OT) pic.twitter.com/r6WnRLd1nU
— BetOnline.ag (@betonline_ag) June 20, 2021
Here is what Brian Windhorst wrote for ESPN’s annual player power ranking’s number one player:
“It’s probably foolish in these times to say anyone is the “greatest” at anything, so let’s avoid that nonsense. Let’s leave it at: Durant is one of the most skilled players to ever take up basketball, and his height, release and accuracy make him one of the most undefendable players in history. It’s remarkable that Durant doesn’t shoot every time down the floor because, frankly, it would almost always be considered a good shot no matter the circumstances.”
In the same ranking, running mates James Harden and Kyrie Irving graded out at numbers 10 and 20 respectively.
Just in front of Harden were Anthony Davis (ninth) and Damian Lillard (eighth). Maybe they’re docking Harden a bit here since we don’t yet know precisely how healthy he is. He was hampered by a hamstring injury all last season. But given his advantage as a play-maker over Lillard, (and possibly defender) it’s possible they were a bit harsh here. At the very least, it’s some bulletin board material for “The Beard” to remind everyone of his rightful place among the league’s best, close behind Kevin Durant. Here are a few ways coach Steve Nash will want to deploy him this season.
As for Irving, he came in just behind Khris Middleton (19) of the Bucks and Donovan Mitchell (18) of the Jazz. Hmm…are they assuming Irving’s ankle is going to be a lingering issue here? I’m not sure that when both are healthy Middleton has ever been better than Irving. And no, Middleton winning a title last year doesn’t change my mind on that point. Mitchell could certainly take a leap, as he’s just 25 years old and seems to still be ascending, however I’m not sure he’s better than Irving either.
In the SI Ranking Harden came in a little higher at 7th overall and Irving 19th.
How KD being labeled the best (despite Giannis winning the championship and a Finals MVP) might impact the Bucks-Nets rivalry is yet to be seen. Giannis has taken the high road on several occasions, praising the Nets’ stars. Most recently, deflecting a possible jab from Harden from a couple of years ago.
If I were drafting a team to win the NBA championship in 2022, I would select Durant, simple as that. The case for Giannis to go ahead of him would probably be about injury concern. If I could fast-forward to the playoffs, (like I bet Nets’ coach Steve Nash would like to do) I would like my chances with KD even more. When everyone is healthy and on the floor I think Durant truly is the best in the business right now, with all due respect to LeBron James, Giannis, Steph Curry, Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic, or a healthy Kawhi Leonard and Joel Embiid. Further, KD doesn’t strike me as the type of player who minds the bullseye being on his back.
The best player in the world resides in Brooklyn. He’ll be back in action at Barclays for the home opener on October 24 against the Hornets.