Unlike the GOAT debate in the NBA, the best player in the world conversation can change by the hour, seemingly.
During the NBA season, the number of participants in this discussion can range from one to five players. Any one of the five could be considered the title holder on any given night. Sometimes it just depends on which way the wind is blowing.
If you ask Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, it’s a two-man race right now for the crown of the best player on the planet.
So, here we go with a never-ending debate of who The Man is in the NBA at the moment. By default, it might be Giannis Antetokounmpo right now, since Kevin Durant is sidelined for 4-to-6 weeks with a knee injury. Based on the season Antetokounmpo is having, it might be hard to deny him another league MVP award, which would be his third. Although the MVP award and mythical best player title aren’t always synonymous.
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Of course, a title like “best player in the league” is an objective one that isn’t even voted on like the MVP award. This argument usually carries on until someone gets tired or the show ends. Looking at recent MVP winners, it seems rare that both crowns rest on the head of the same player in a given year.
Nikola Jokić (2021)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (2019 & 2020)
James Harden (2018)
Russell Westbrook (2017)
Stephen Curry (2015 & 2016)
I can confidently say that no one in their right mind considered Westbrook, Harden, or even Jokić the best player in the league during their MVP seasons. The same goes for Curry and Antetokounmpo in their first year of back-to-back MVP awards. In 2016, it can be argued that Curry was the best player for a spell. Giannis didn’t really jump into the conversation until last year, when the Bucks won the championship. Before last season, Milwaukee kept flaming out before the Finals.
Garnett and Pierce both have valid arguments when it comes to Durant vs. Antetokounmpo. This really comes down to preference and style. Giannis can get downright gritty and plays bully ball better than anyone we’ve seen since Shaquille O’Neal. He’ll also give you 12 rebounds, block a couple of shots and be the best defender on the floor most games. For the fan who prefers a pure scoring assassin, a sniper at all three levels on the offensive end, and a player that is a much better defender than he gets credit for, then you’re rolling with Durant. It really is tough to choose, but you can’t go wrong with either.
It’s funny how LeBron James has been left out of the best-player conversation lately. He’s the only thing going well for the Lakers this year and has crept into the conversation for league MVP over the last month or so. It’s doubtful James wins his fifth MVP award, but for him to be in the discussion at age 37 should count for something. Of course, LeBron’s fan club would say he’s still the best player in the league and deserves to be MVP. But they’ve said that every year for nearly two decades. Realistically James is still a top-five player in the NBA at worst.
But it would seem the days of LeBron carrying anybody to the Finals are long over. As we’ve seen, it’s going to be a struggle for L.A. to finish in the top six out west at this point. Any of this could be why James was excluded from Garnett and Pierce’s conversation. That and the fact they’ve never cared much for ‘Bron. And they went to battle in some tough playoff series back in the day. To let Garnett tell it, his big three Celtics ran James out of Cleveland to the warm shores of South Beach in Miami.
Now, going back to the KD vs. Giannis discussion. All things being equal, if you’re making me pick between the two players….whoa this really is a tough one. If both guys are healthy, with no other shenanigans going on (which never happens, i.e., Kyrie Irving), I’m going with Durant. It’s narrow, and I know the Bucks beat the Nets last postseason in Game 7 to advance, but I have to go with KD. He’s such a rare breed that it’s just tough to pass up the skillset Durant possesses.
What Dirk Nowitzki started, Durant came along and took to the next level. A seven-footer (6-foot-11 my ass) that can shoot it like a guard, take you off the dribble, handles the rock like he’s 6-foot-1, and can score efficiently from all three levels. When it’s this close, I’ll usually go with the guy that defends better, which we all know is Antetokounmpo. Whereas KD is such a unique player for so many reasons, it’s hard for me to pass on him when healthy. Durant is also the best mid-range shooter in an era where most players seem to have forgotten it exists. Forget Kritaps Porzingis; Durant should’ve named himself The Unicorn.