Unlike the GOAT debate in the NBA, the best player in the global conversation can change from hour to hour, apparently.
During the NBA season, the number of participants in this chat can range from one to five players. Any of the five could be considered the titleholder any night. Sometimes it just depends on which direction 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 best player on the planet.
So here we are with an endless debate about who The man is in the NBA right now. By default, it could be Giannis Antetokounmpo right now, since Kevin Durant is out for 4-at -6 weeks with a knee injury. Based on Antetokounmpo’s season, it might be hard to deny him another league MVP title, which would be his third. Although the MVP award and the mythical title of the best player are not always synonymous.
Of course, a title like “best player in the league” is an objective title that is not even voted as the MVP award. This argument usually continues until someone gets tired or the show ends. Looking at recent MVP winners, it seems rare for both crowns to rest on the same player’s head in any given year.
Nikola Jokic (2021)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (2019 & 2020)
James Harden (2018)
Russell Westbrook (2017)
Stephen Curry (2015 and 2016)
I can say with confidence 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 straight year of MVP awards. In 2016, it’s safe to say 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 on fire heading into the Finals.
Both Garnett and Pierce have valid points when it comes to Durant versus Antetokounmpo. It really depends on preference and style. Giannis can get downright gritty and play bully ball better than anyone we’ve seen since Shaquille O’Neal. He’ll also give you 12 rebounds, block a few shots, and be the best rushing defender most games. For the fan who prefers a pure assassin, a sniper with all three offensive levels and a player who is a much better defender than he deserves, then you roll with Durant. It’s really hard to choose, but you can’t go wrong either.
It’s funny how LeBron James has been left out of the top players conversation lately. He’s the only thing going right for the Lakers this year and has slipped into the conversation for league MVP over the last month or so. James is unlikely to win his fifth MVP award, but for him being in the discussion at 37 should count for something. Of course, the LeBron fan club would say he’s still the best player in the league and deserves to be MVP. But they said that every year for almost two decades. Realistically, James is still one of the NBA’s top five players at worst.
But it seems the days of LeBron carrying anyone to the Finals are long gone. As we’ve seen, it’s going to be tough for LA to finish in the top six in the west at this point. All of this could be why James was left out of Garnett and Pierce’s conversation. That and the fact that they never cared much about ‘Bron. And they went to fight in a tough playoff at the time. To let Garnett say it, his the big three Celtics ran James from Cleveland to the warm shores of South Beach in Miami.
Now back to the discussion between KD and Giannis. All things being equal, if you make me choose between the two players…. whoa this is really hard. If both guys are healthy, with no other shenanigans (which never happens, ie Kyrie Irving), I go with Durant. It’s narrow, and I know the Dollars beat the nets last playoff game 7 to advance, but I have to go with KD. He’s such a rare breed that it’s hard to pass up the skills Durant possesses.
What Dirk Nowitzki started Durant came and took to the next level. A seven-footer (6-foot-11 my ass) who can shoot like a guard, get you off the dribble, handle the rock like he’s 6-foot-1, and can score effectively at all three levels. When it’s this tight I usually go with the guy who defends the best, which we all know is Antetokounmpo. While KD is such a unique player for so many reasons, it’s hard for me to pass him healthy. Durant is also the best mid-range shooter in a time when most players seem to have forgotten he exists. Forget Kritaps Porzingis; During should have been called The Unicorn.