If you had to choose one NBA player to build your franchise around today, who would it be?
This question has caused as many arguments and debates among basketball fans as the steroid user/ Hall of Fame question has for baseball fans.
Every fan has an opinion; every fan thinks his opinion is fact.
Today, I’m going to tackle the topic, and the facts may surprise you.
Any healthy debate revolves around six players: Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Dwight Howard .
(Editor’s Note: In my inherent stupidity, I forgot to even mention Carmelo Anthony in my article. I planned on putting him in his own category. Anthony may also be brought up in this discussion, but in my opinion, his case is weak. Though he is perhaps the best scorer in the league, Anthony is too much of a one-dimensional player to warrant inclusion on the list. )
Any unhealthy debate revolves around Skip Bayless and whatever absurd filth he spews in a shameless attempt to boost television ratings.
Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash are all elite players, too, but they don’t belong in the discussion. Why not?
Ask yourself: would you rather have Steve Nash for the next two seasons or Chris Paul for the next ten? Tim Duncan for the next four seasons or Dwight Howard for the next twelve? You get the point.
Who, you ask, would I choose?
Don’t worry, I’ll get to that shortly, but first, a few hypothetical rules. We’re pretending all the current rosters are erased and players in the NBA are put into a draft. Money is not a factor, but age is. I have the first pick of the 2010 Fake NBA Draft.
I’m not going with the best all-around player (Kobe), or the most athletically gifted (LeBron), or even the young, big man conventional wisdom tells us you should build your team around (Dwight Howard).
I’d build my franchise around the incomparable 21-year-old who borrowed college basketball for a year and can be seen plotting a robbery of the league from superstars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant on a nightly basis. I’m taking Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In only his third season in the NBA, Durant is the leader of a surprise Thunder team that is currently 23-18, 7th in the Western Conference, while averaging 29.1 ppg on 48.4% shooting to go along with 7.1 rpg.
Because he is out west in Oklahoma City, Durant hasn’t garnered superstar attention yet, but while fans and media focus on LeBron, Kobe, and Dwayne Wade, Durant is busy revolutionizing the game while he prepares himself for a decade of league-wide domination. How many 6’11″ two-guards have you seen before ‘The Durantula’?
And at only 21 years old, Durant has a good chance to be playing for another 15 seasons or so. He also has room for improvement, especially when it comes to the development of physical strength. Coming into the league, Durant could not even bench press 185 lbs for one repetition , yet he was still able to run away with the Rookie of the Year Award. Imagine Durant 15 to 20 pounds stronger. The sky is the limit. No ceilings.
Okay, Durant’s great, you say, but why choose him over the other stars in the argument? Let me school you…
Paul is part of the argument because he is the best point guard in the league, and just 25 years old. However, the recent influx of good, young point guards has lowered his value as a franchise-starter. A few years ago, a great point guard was a huge commodity, but with Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans, among others, emerging as team leaders, the point guard crop today is abundant.
If you don’t pick Paul, there are 10-12 other good to great point guards to choose from. If you don’t take Durant, by the time you pick again, all the elite swingmen will have been selected.
Wade is one of my favorite players, but his past health problems and his age (28 years old) would keep me from selecting him. Wade plays such a fierce, relentless brand of basketball that I’m worried he’ll burn out earlier than some of the other superstars. Wade relies almost solely on his athleticism, so when his quickness, speed and jumping ability fade, he’ll have trouble remaining a star.
In my estimation, Wade has about 4-5 superstar years left before his game declines. On the other hand, Howard and Durant have at least 10 years apiece. I’ll bank on their odds of leading a championship team before I will bet on Wade.
While Howard has youth and size on his side, I prefer Durant because of his offensive skill-level. Howard is a great defender and rebounder, but five years into his career he still has not developed even ONE reliable post move. Howard’s poor offense coupled with his awful foul shooting make me leery of selecting the big fella.
Worse still, Howard seems unable to balance his happy-go-lucky attitude with a great work ethic. Coach Stan Van Gundy has called Howard out for lazy play far too many times for my comfort and his inability to improve offensively or at foul shooting lead me to believe he doesn’t have the necessary work ethic to reach his full potential.
At age 32, it’s a testament to Kobe that he’s even on this list. Kobe has already played 13 NBA seasons, but he still continues to improve each season. This offseason, Kobe added a post-game to his arsenal- similar to Jordan later in his career- that should allow him to compete at an extremely high level into his late-thirties.
Even so, Bryant realistically has only about 5-6 seasons left in his career. Compared to the decade or more left for LeBron James and Kevin Durant,-though it’s still a tough choice- I’d prefer the youngsters.
Ultimately, my number one pick came down to LeBron and Durant. Many fans would choose LeBron without a second thought, but I still have a few unanswered questions about LeBron.
Can he make free throws when they matter in the playoffs? Why hasn’t he drastically improved his shot, or added a post-game like Kobe? Is he more dedicated to basketball, or his business and becoming a global icon?
Maybe I’m nitpicking, but I still don’t see the ultra-competitive streak in LeBron that all great winners have. I’m not convinced he works hard enough on his game in the offseason. Don’t get me wrong, LeBron has improved each season; but it’s the kind of improvement that comes with experience and getting older, not the kind of improvement that comes from countless hours in the gym.
Durant hasn’t answered the question of playoff poise yet either, but I know he loves and fully commits himself to basketball. As a high school senior, I saw Kevin Durant play in the Spalding Hoophall Classic at Springfield College and I was impressed. The next year, when I saw him playing for Texas, I was blown away. He had drastically improved his game from one year to the next. I thought he’d be a good college player, but I did not have a clue he’d be THAT good.
When the story was told of how Durant literally ate meals and slept in his high school gym, I was not surprised: there is only one way to improve that much, that quickly. And Durant has continued to improve. As a rookie, Durant was a poor rebounder with a bad shot selection. Despite his natural shooting ability, Durant shot only 43% for the season. Fast forward two seasons, and Durant is now shooting over 48% and grabbing over 7 rebounds a game.
While I see no ceiling for either LeBron or Durant, I’m confident Durant will put in the work to reach his potential, while I’m still not sold on LeBron. So, you can take D-Wade, Kobe, or LeBron. Give me Kevin Durant and in 2025, I’ll be the one waving my right hand at a championship parade, with a ring on each finger.