Written by: Flight
This summer has seen a lot of changes in the NBA that we’ve all witnessed from Gordon Hayward becoming a Celtic, the Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas trade being the main storylines. But there has been a key potential change that hasn’t been spoken about enough for casual and diehard fans of the NBA. For the first time in the past eight or so years there looks to be a true toss up on who is the best player in the NBA. The tide seemed to change during one sequence in Game 3 of the NBA Finals this year when Kevin Durant pulled down a rebound with the Warriors down against the Cavs 113-111. Kevin confidently handled the ball and pulled up from the left wing and nailed a three pointer that gave the Warriors the lead in a game where the Cavs had poured their soul into. The shot effectively ended the series but also represented a potential passing of the torch. For so long it seemed as if LeBron was unanimously thought of as the best player in the NBA that we had grown accustomed to it.
It had become routine for a guy to have a stellar regular season like Derrick Rose did in 2010-11 or Steph Curry had in 14-15. But the prevailing thought process was LeBron was holding back and pacing himself for the postseason so it wasn’t a surprise to see other players dominate the regular season and win MVP. The debate really started to heat up as who was the game’s best player in 2015-16 as Steph Curry had one of the greatest seasons of all time averaging 30/7/5 on absurd shooting splits of 50/90/45. Steph not only put up a historic shooting season but he was also the guy on the team who was threatening to beat the Chicago Bulls 1995-1996 72-10 regular season record. The Warriors did eventually beat that record as they won 73 games in the regular season and Steph also became the first player to hit 400 threes in a season. Steph had deservedly so become the en vogue man of the NBA. His style was easy to watch as he combined a smooth handle with a penchant for taking deep threes that would get anybody benched except him as he made those shots at such a rate all you could do is shake your head in disbelief. LeBron had become somewhat of an afterthought and it seemed like the torch was passed from him to Steph until the playoffs. LeBron went on a playoff run where he averaged 26/9/8 and led the greatest comeback story in NBA history as the Cavs defeated the best regular season team of all time to give Cleveland their first title in 40 years.
LeBron started the 16-17 season regarded by pretty much everybody as the best player in the world. The King had reclaimed his throne and he had a spectacular regular season averaging 26/9/9 on 54/67/36 shooting splits. But there seemed to be slight kinks in the armor that were more visible. When fully engaged, LeBron is still a good defender but he seemed to be less engaged and would preserve his energy for the offensive end. It made sense as he was the main playmaker for the Cavs but while this was going on Kevin Durant was becoming an elite defender and even showing glimpses of rim protection from a wing.
Also, Kawhi was establishing himself as an elite offensive option while still being the best perimeter defender in the NBA. The season played out as expected and we got the Warriors and Cavs part three. LeBron averaged a triple double with 33/12/10 averages. But if a thing is possible he didn’t look like the best player on the court most games. That honor now belonged to Kevin Durant who averaged 35/8/5 on 55/92/47 shooting splits. LeBron was able to match Kevin but it finally seemed like the kinks that had started to show last season were evident due to mileage and preserving energy, LeBron couldn’t guard KD. KD obviously has the help of three phenomenal players in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. LeBron’s teammates aren’t at that level but there is some talent there.
With the Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas trade. The Cavs lost one of the best iso scorers in the game and you can make a case for Kyrie being the best isolation scorer in the league. LeBron will have a bigger burden this year as Isaiah will miss some time to start the season. The addition of Jae Crowder is huge as it will allow the Cavs to have a perimeter defender who plays the three and d role perfectly. He’ll allow LeBron to preserve energy and not have to chase guys around screens as he can now pick the weaker wing scoring option to guard. In the playoffs is where concerns will rise as LeBron should step it up another gear. Isaiah is one of the worst defenders in basketball as his height of 5’7 severely limits him in that capacity. A team like the Warriors focuses on exposing the oppositions weaknesses probably more so than any other team in the NBA. Can LeBron show the elite defensive ability he showed in his prime or will mileage and the responsibility on offense limit what he can do in that regard. I believe with Isaiah Thomas out early in the season we’ll get a shot to see if LeBron can reclaim his throne or if there’s finally a new sheriff in town.