Given an unbelievable selection, which golden hoop phenom would you like: Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard?
Like an eclipse of the moon, the N.B.A. playoffs this season supply an uncommon crossing of shadows. Two of the league’s 5 greatest gamers will develop into free brokers on July 1, and nobody apart from an agent or favourite uncle has a clue the place they may wash ashore.
Most consideration has centered on Durant, that preternaturally gifted seven-foot ahead possessed of a feathery contact and a hawk’s eye for a chopping teammate. He has gained consecutive championships with the Golden State Warriors, and the chatter is that he would possibly decamp to the New York Knicks and attempt to reanimate a way back flatlined crew.
The encoded assumption is that Durant is the choose of a high quality free agent litter.
Now Kawhi Leonard has shouldered his method into that dialog. He already had tossed up an unbelievable falling out of bounds game-winning shot, snared one-handed rebounds and wrapped Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks’ transcendent star, in an iron-claw defensive embrace. Then on Thursday night time, limping and not airborne, he unpacked his each transfer, scoring 35 factors on an assortment of floaters and jumpers and put backs. He additionally dished 9 assists and pulled down seven rebounds to provide the Toronto Raptors a three-games-to-two lead in its Eastern Conference finals collection.
As Leonard, 27, is 2 years and 9 months youthful than Durant, does he supply higher worth?
I put this how-many-angels-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin query – Leonard or Durant – to basketball lifer Clarence Gaines. He was scouting swami for the Chicago Bulls throughout their glory days and was vp of participant personnel throughout Phil Jackson’s Knicks tenure. Before that units you to muttering darkly, recall that Gaines insisted on drafting a Latvian unicorn by the identify of Kristaps Porzingis.
Gaines was well mannered sufficient to supply solely a touch of a chuckle at my query.
“So you’re bored?” he requested me. “If you can get either one of them you take them yesterday, today or tomorrow.”
O.Okay., however …
Gaines noticed that I used to be not getting off the phone and so provided extra. To draw the comparative measure of these stars who loom as Himalayan peaks subsequent to their contemporaries, you need to dive into arcana. You start with comparative statistics, that are spectacular if maybe not decisive.
Leonard’s playoff highway this yr is paved with gilded statistics. He has averaged 31 factors and eight.four rebounds a sport throughout a run that has taken his crew three rounds into the playoffs right into a taut battle with the Milwaukee Bucks. He is capturing 52 % from the sphere — and his efficiency solely swelled as he dived into the crucible of the playoffs.
A counterpoint is so as: Durant pulled his calf muscle within the Warriors’ final collection, and so he sat out the convention ultimate. Gone shouldn’t be forgotten. Before his damage, he was averaging 34 factors – the best playoff common of his profession — and 5 assists per sport, and capturing 41 % from past the Three-point line. He sunk a dagger deep into his crew’s hardest competitor to date, the Houston Rockets. And he’s a savvy defender.
In different phrases, he’s not dangerous.
Both males stay startlingly calm within the sport’s frenzied eye. In a sport towards the Bucks this previous Tuesday, Leonard didn’t pile up factors and rebounds, however he gave the distinct impression that efficiency was the results of clever design. He doesn’t possess the improvisational capturing soul of a Stephen Curry or Kyrie Irving, however he reads a sport’s rhythms like a e book.
The Bucks in that Tuesday sport stored closing on him like a Venus Flytrap at any time when he feinted towards the opening. So he pounded the ball and waited for the defenders to descend and whipped the ball to teammates who in flip hit others chopping to the basket. Toronto’s coach Nick Nurse termed these Leonard’s “hockey assists,” which means sensible passes that result in assists in flip.
On protection, he crouched low and prolonged these large mitts of his. He has put in stints protecting Antetokounmpo, and it’s secure to guess the Greek’s goals at the moment are bewitched by visions of Leonard.
Like many basketball males, the basketball man Gaines’s thoughts runs to minutes performed and sturdiness and utilization, which is to say how a lot stress-filled time the celebs spend with the ball of their fingers. The grandest stars run yr after yr deep into the playoffs and over the course of their careers will wind up taking part in total further seasons-worth of video games.
LeBron James has performed 46,235 common season minutes – and one other 10,049 minutes within the playoffs, or practically one-fifth of his profession. Durant has performed 31,305 common season minutes and one other 5,586 within the playoffs.
Leonard’s workload has been considerably lighter. He has amassed 14,404 minutes within the common season and one other Three,523 within the playoffs.
Injuries are one other measure, and mirror the wages of a cumulative sporting down. Durant has missed greater than a dozen video games per season in the previous few years. Leonard unexpectedly missed most of final season with a quad pressure, the thriller of which was compounded by Leonard’s diffidence and refusal to debate that nature of that damage. He occupies that space between taciturn and mum.
“You see muscle and tendon strains, those are overuse injuries,” Gaines mentioned. “You are more susceptible to that with age.”
Which brings us to the actuarial charts. NBAminer.com crunched data and discovered that a basketball player’s prime is 29 years old, that point where physical talent and the ability to see and dissect a game arrive at a handsome crossroads. Many players slip side rather quickly after that and begin the descent into athletic old age.
That might cause a general manager or two to double-clench at the notion of showering hundreds of millions of dollars on Durant, 30. Against that parsimonious impulse however, we should balance another statistical reality: The very best, those truly worth of the overused term superstar, tend to enjoy longer peaks and far milder downward slopes.
So which one … ?
Gaines smartly declined to take my bait. Me, I’d take the seven-footer who can twirl like a ballet dancer and hit 30 footers over undersized opponents. But if I were Knicks management, and the phlegmatic Leonard gets on the phone, I’d agree to take the lunch meeting and I’d pick up the check too.