Is Kevin Durant the best basketball player ever at 21 years of age? Better than LeBron? Better than MJ? Better than Magic?
We raised this question last night on ETSF Radio and the debate got extremely heated and spilled over to Kenny's and Ed's twitter pages. Truth be told, the initial question that Kenny raised was who is now in the elite...either Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Durant.
Then Ed made what some would say is the most blasphemous statement in basketball history. Others would say that the kid might be onto something...
I can't take credit for being the first one to bring this up, Vince Thomas from SLAM Magazine brought it up with Bomani Jones back on Monday and it was a very interesting conversation. Click on the picture below to see a statistical breakout of the four players listed below.
You all know I'm a big fan of KD35 so I'll try to not be a homer here. The point I made last night was that there hasn't been a player since KD who has come into the league with a more refined game than his. He is an elite scorer at the truest level, especially when you start to look at the games that each of the four players had. LeBron, Magic, and MJ relied heavily on finishing at the rim and shooting within 15 feet. Durant's game stretches all the way to half-court damn near. Durant's averaging 30 and 8 per game, all while shooting 48% from the field, 38% from the 3-point line, and 88% from the free throw line. For someone who's known as a perimeter player, he also gets to the line 10 times a game and is #1 in free throws made this season. In his 3rd year, he's become much less of a defensive liability, all while getting a block & steal per game.
In theory, that definition of why Kevin Durant is the best basketball player at 21 would've been enough. However, now in his 3rd season and he's carrying an extremely young OKC Thunder team to the #6 seed in the horrendously deep Western Conference. The things Durant's doing in his 3rd season is truly remarkable.
Now, with that being said...I didn't write this article last night. I wrote it early this morning. I needed to sleep on it and do some research.
Kevin Durant and LeBron James are tied.
LeBron put up a stupid 31, 7, and 7 at age 21. The 7 assists per game is a remarkable achievement. (However, it ain't Durant's fault that the general management drafted an actual PG for the Thunder in Russell Westbrook, while LeBron was stuck with Eric Snow) The disparity of LeBron's assists versus Durant's overall shooting excellence brings them equal. You could even argue that Durant is more clutch than LeBron was at 21 as well. However, LeBron's Cavaliers finished with a 50-32 record and was a #4 seed in the East. In the next season, LeBron took the Cavs to the NBA Finals.
Magic's case is interesting as he put up a 22, 9, and 9 in 1980-81. The only person to legitimately get EXTREMELY close to get to averaging a triple-double for the season. Magic was nowhere near a shooter that MJ, LeBron, or Durant was at all, and didn't get to the line near as much either. However, Magic also AVERAGED 3.4 steals a game, which is an absurd number. Now at the same time...he did have Kareem, Norm Nixon, and a litany of other stars on that squad. Plus, he helped win a title for the Lakers at 21. Huge accomplishment.
Now we get to Jordan, who in his '84-85 season Jordan posted a 28, 7, and 6 season. Jordan was limited as a 3-point shooter but generally was an overall very good shooter. Not better than Durant, but was more reliable at the line than LeBron and Magic, and he get to the line 9 times a game. Moreover, Jordan's leap onto this pedestal is boosted by the fact that Jordan was an elite defender at age 21. MJ lead Chicago to a #7 seed with a 38-44 record.
You could legitimately make a case for all 4, Durant's only flaw against the other 3 is that he doesn't distribute the ball. LeBron had the most inconsistent jumper at 21. Magic had an elite team around him in 1980-81. Michael didn't have the 3-ball to stretch defenses out. Just something to think about.
WHO'S YOUR PICK AT AGE 21?