Kevin Durant Is Not the NBA's Best Player, But He Could Be

Arguably the best player in the NBA after his 2013-14 MVP campaign, Kevin Durant is here to remind the world of his elite status.

In August,  Kevin Durant offered confident words to reporters at a Team USA meeting.

"I feel like I’m the best player in the world,"  Durant said. "No disrespect to other players here, but I always got that confidence."

When included in the scoring company of Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain, this is certainly an argument one can make. Yet, despite Durant’s confidence, his recent injury trouble paints a less certain picture.

Entering the 2015 season, he has one more scoring title (four) than foot surgeries (three) and will re-enter the NBA landscape against a ballooning crop of elite talent.

Durant’s number scoring titles are only bested by Jordan (10) and Chamberlain (7), but in order to sit on the Iron Throne of basketball royalty, Durant must transcend the elite status of reigning MVP Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Chris PaulJames Harden, and LeBron James.

Those five -- plus Durant -- make up the top six of the Win Shares leaderboard in the  past two seasons combined.

Durant was arguably the best basketball player on the planet during his 2013-14 MVP campaign, and in the 27 games he played in 2014-15 before succumbing to his aforementioned foot injury, he was on par with with the league’s very best.

But is he really the world's best?

Durant's 2014-15 Season

Just because Durant's most recent season was cut short doesn't mean it wasn't elite.

Player Games nERD PER Points per Game Assist% Total Rebound%
Kevin Durant  27  5.9  27.6  25.4 22.2 10.4
Stephen Curry  80  20.5  28.0  23.8 38.6 7.0
LeBron James  69  9.1  25.9  25.3 38.6 9.6
Anthony Davis 68  19.1  30.8 24.4 11.6 16.1
James Harden 81 19.1 26.7 27.4  34.6 8.5
Chris Paul 82 18.8 26.0 19.1 47.4 7.4

The numbers above do not place Durant as the sole proprietor in one category, but let's break things down further.

Durant's nERD falls by the wayside because of his shortened season, but his per-game and rate stats stack up quite favorably. Also, based on his efficiency, he would have made a league average team nearly 6 wins better over a full season (indicated by his nERD score). James was only at 9.1.

Davis beat Durant (and the rest of the candidates for that matter) with his historically good Player Efficiency Rating (30.8) and Total Rebound Percentage (16.1), but the two forwards are in the same company as some of the most ball-dominant guards and wing players in the NBA.

And that's part of the problem.

This table indicates a six-way intersection for debate that makes it near impossible to place any singular player as the best in the world right now, as strengths are varied among the group. This, in turn, is precisely why Durant is not the best in the world.

He has earned nickname “Slim Reaper” for a reason, and while his injury-shortened season still hangs over him, it is easy to forget what Durant accomplished during his MVP campaign. In that season, Durant became one of just three players -- alongside Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain -- to average at least 32 points on 50 percent or better from the field, 7 rebounds and 5 assists.

Durant is in the company of two entirely different dominant players. Therein lies Durant’s unique and transformative game that no one else in the league possesses to this extent.

The recency bias will gloss over Durant and favor the likes of Davis for his unlimited potential and Curry for being the best player on the best team.

LeBron James’ remarkable ability to carry lackluster teams to the Finals while posting numbers never seen before (35.8 points, 8.8 assists, and 13.3 rebounds) automatically casts a shadow over the mostly-absent Durant. Harden’s plow-truck style of attacking the rim and owner of a step back jumper that brings defenders to their knees made him an under-appreciated MVP candidate from the 2014-2015 season, all while Durant was watching from the sidelines.

Durant’s casual cockiness may not be unwarranted as we enter the 2015-2016 NBA season. After all, his talk matches his walk, as few eat, sleep and breathe the game of basketball like Kevin Durant. His HBO feature showed us a glimpse of the former MVP who spends most of his time off the court trying to improve his game on the court.

After what could be his last season with the Thunder, Durant will be one of the most coveted free agents in recent history, but the fact of the matter is that we do not know what Kevin Durant is capable of until the season starts.

When he steps on to an NBA court for this first time this upcoming season, Durant must not merely approach his 2013-14 MVP numbers. Rather, he must eclipse them. Those may be lofty expectations, but that is the bar that has been set by the NBA’s elite -- and by Durant himself.