Ah yes, the age-old question. One that has had a solid variety of answers over the course of the past few months. But, questions need answers. That is what I will be doing today. Who is the best NBA player, right now?
Stephen Curry – 32.0 PPG, 5.8 APG, 5.0 RPG, 65.5 TS%
LeBron James – 25.0 PPG, 7.8 APG, 7.7 RPG, 60.2 TS%
Kevin Durant – 26.9 PPG, 5.6 APG, 7.1 RPG, 66.6 TS%
Kawhi Leonard – 24.8 PPG 5.2 APG, 6.5 RPG, 62.2 TS%
How It Will Work
I will make the case for each player to be the best in the world, and from there decide who has the strongest case. I will be breaking down the individual’s offensive play, defensive play, impact, how they performed this year, and in recent years. Let’s roll.
Candidate #1 – Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry is by far the best offensive player in basketball. He is the best scorer in basketball in my opinion, although many would argue Kevin Durant is a better scorer. Curry averages more points than Durant has similar efficiency, and also is in a way worse offensive situation.
Curry’s offensive stats come from being consistently doubled from half-court, with some of the worse spacing and only one other good playmaker on the roster in Draymond. KD plays with multiple great playmakers, has top 3 spacing in the league, and still has worse scoring numbers.
Curry is also either the best or second-best playmaker, he and LeBron are close there. Another misconception is that playmaking is only passing/assists which is far from true, but that is a future topic. His playoff translation is very good as well, especially recently as we saw him playing at an all-time level in the 2019 playoffs and in the 2021 play-in.
In terms of defense, Curry is far from lights out, but he is far from bad either. He is a very neutral defender, especially on the perimeter. Curry is also the most impactful player in the NBA today, and when healthy has been in the best in the world conversation for a few years.
Candidate #2 – LeBron James
If you asked most NBA fans this question at the start of the season, LeBron would be the response, and for great reason. LeBron just helped lead his Lakers to the NBA finals. LeBron has some of the best postseason translations we have ever seen.
LeBron’s main offensive strength is playmaking. LeBron is either the best or second-best playmaker today, with Stephen Curry also having a case. I also have those two as my #2 and #3 playmakers ever.
LeBron is a top 15 scorer in the NBA. While he has regressed scoring the ball recently, he is definitely still up there. LeBron has gotten a lot of hate for the early playoff exit, but that was not really his fault, especially offensively, as AD was hurt and his team as a whole underwhelmed.
In terms of defense, though, it gets rough. At this stage in his career, LeBron is around an average defender. He can pick it up at times, or he can be a terrible defender too, as we saw against the Suns. However, I think he is still very average there for now. LeBron is also one of the most impactful players right now and is always in the best in the world talks.
Candidate #3 – Kevin Durant
I feel like if most NBA fans were presented with the question, “Who is the best player in the NBA?” Kevin Durant would be the common answer. In my opinion, Durant is the second-best scorer in the NBA. He can shoot at will over anyone, is highly efficient, and always turns it up come playoff time.
Durant, however, is a very underrated playmaker as well. As I mentioned in my Curry segment earlier, playmaking is far more than passing and assists, and Durant is another player that unfortunately finds himself underrated due to most NBA fans not realizing that. What we saw from Durant against the Bucks with a depleted team was nothing short of legendary.
In terms of defense, again, Durant is very average. He does not excel or suck at either perimeter defense or post defense. He is a solid perimeter defender for a guy his size but is pretty underwhelming guarding down low for a player his size as well.
So, once again, I will label him an average defender. Durant is a very impactful player, despite him not being able to display that often due to him being on a superteam since 2016-17. The Bucks series was a great display of that. Pre-injury, Durant was still in the best in the world conversation and has been top 3 for most fans for years now.
Candidate #4 – Kawhi Leonard
A bit of a rogue option in this discussion, we have Kawhi Leonard. While he hasn’t been getting the same best in the world hype as these other three recently, he definitely should be. Kawhi is a top 5 scorer in the NBA and is very underrated all-time as a scorer. He can score efficiently and with the best of them from all three levels, and his playoff translation has been nothing short of magnificent.
Before his knee injury, Kawhi was having an ELITE postseason run, especially offensively. Kawhi is also one of the best playmakers in the NBA and is at the top among playmakers at his position as well. Kawhi’s offensive game overall is very underrated and he is a top 7 offensive player in the world, if not top 5.
Kawhi really enters this conversation when you bring in defense. While Kawhi has slightly regressed on defense, he is still BY FAR the best defender on this list and is a fringe top 10 defender in the NBA. In my opinion, Kawhi is the best non-power forward or non-center defender in basketball.
Since I value post defense way more than the perimeter, Kawhi and other top perimeter defenders fall on my list, but he is still a pretty good post defender as well. Kawhi is one of the most impactful players as well. If you asked people before last season who the best player was, most would say Kawhi, and he has retained top-tier caliber to this day.
So, Who’s The Winner?
Now that we have given the case for each of the four candidates, it is time for me to give my opinion on who the best is. And my answer is pretty clearly Stephen Curry. As I mentioned before, Curry is by far the best offensive player, the most impactful player, and overall currently is the best player in my eyes.
How would I rank these players after Steph Curry?
At number 2, I am taking Kawhi Leonard. One of the best offensive players in the game, Kawhi is also the best defender by far out of the four. At number 3, I have Kevin Durant. Durant just had a historic postseason run, and I could definitely honor a case for Durant to be in the top 2.
This means, likely controversially, I have LeBron James at number 4. LeBron overall regressed this year, on both sides of the ball. He is still one of the best players, but I just can’t really see him be top 3 right now.
Photo: Robin Lundberg, Sports Illustrated