By Shawn Dennis
When it comes to comparing players, there’s so many contributing factors that play a part in who’s had a more impressive tenure in the NBA and why. From the era they played in, position, team, statistics, and championships especially, there’s a broad spectrum of analysis to include while trying to argue who’s better than who. In the case of Kevin Durant versus Kawhi Leonard, the verdict can really go either way when narrowing down what player has had the more defining career in the league. How’s this possible considering Durant was drafted in 2007, while Kawhi entered the league four years later in 2011? Here’s how.
For starters, both Durant and Kawhi have won two championships in which they were Finals MVP’s. Although they share the same stat line here, I give the edge to Kawhi considering how incredible he played at the young age of 22 in his first Finals MVP run with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. His defensive presence on LeBron James with all the pressure on him also pushes him over the top in this category. Likewise, for Kawhi to bring a Larry O’Brien trophy to Toronto in his one-year of play for the Raptors is such a remarkable feat that former Raptors Hall of Famers like Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, and potentially Chris Bosh were unable to do. Not to say that Durant’s performance with the Golden State Warriors in both of his Finals MVPs weren’t incredible, but I think the degree of difficulty for Kawhi’s accomplishment was much greater.
In the aspect of who’s been the better offensive player, Durant wins this by a landslide. KD has averaged 27.1 points per game for his career to go along with 88% from the free-throw line, 49% from the field, and is 26th on the all-time scoring list. KD also tops Kawhi in triple doubles as he has 12 to Kawhi’s dismal one. Of course both of these guys flourish at different things on the court, but given the opportunity to give the ball to one of them when it matters most, there’s no question I’d rather have Kevin Durant be my go-to guy. Oh yeah, not to mention Durant is also a four-time scoring champion and joined the 50-40-90 club back in 2013, quite ridiculous.
Next, defense. This is where it gets extremely difficult to determine what player has had the more impressive defensive tenure in the NBA. Yes, Kawhi’s nickname is in fact “The Klaw” because of his freakishly big hands and defensive skill, but when it comes down to the statistics and defensive awareness on the ball, it’s much closer than you think. Before we get into the stats, it’s important to make mention that Kawhi is more of a true small forward than Durant is as over the latter half of his career, Durant has played both the small and power forwards since his departure from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Over the course of his career, Kawhi Leonard has averaged 1.8 steals per game along with .6 blocks per contest. In the 2014-2015 season, Kawhi averaged a ridiculous 2.3 steals a game and since then has been coined one of the best wing defenders in the entire league. That was followed by winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award back-to-back seasons in 2015 and 2016.
As for KD, he has identical numbers for his career in both blocks and steals per game at 1.1. Whether or not you think that’s more difficult to accomplish than what Kawhi has done is all a matter of opinion because of the height difference between the two, as well as Durant playing in 3 seasons more, although Kawhi had missed practically the whole 2017-2018 season, only playing in 9 games.
The advantage for me here goes to Kawhi because of his Finals performances against LeBron in his early years, as well as his dominance throughout the year since he’s been drafted in 2011. Neither of these guys really take plays off and yes, Kawhi had used the “load management” reason for not playing during the last two seasons and it definitely plays an effect into this comparison, but I still believe I’d rather have Kawhi as a defender in the crunch than KD.
Of course there’s a ton of other aspects to the game that separate these players and makes it quite difficult to determine who has had the better career (All-Star appearances, impact on the game, winning percentage, jersey sales, etc.) but I have to give the edge to Kevin Durant. If Durant wins the title this year in Brooklyn (as he should) then I think Kawhi has a lot of catching up to do. What makes this comparison closer than what most people assume is that Kawhi won a ring for Toronto. Both players have blown 3-1 leads in the playoffs, missed a season because of injury, and have had their fair share of media coverage that’s been both good and bad, but Durant’s got my vote for now.