Thursday September 15th, 2016

The toughest call in this year’s rankings came down to two Golden State teammates: Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. There are many quality arguments in Curry’s favor: he is the back-to-back MVP, he averaged more points, he shot more efficiently, he drove a more efficient offense, he led the first 73-win team in NBA history, and he posted better marks in Player Efficiency Rating, Win Shares and Real Plus Minus. And, by the way, his Warriors defeated Durant’s Thunder in the Western Conference finals and then Durant decided to leave the only franchise he’s ever known to roll with the winners. That’s a lot of good reasons. Opting for Durant over Curry came down to four main counterarguments. First, Durant moved cleanly past his foot injury issues from 2014–15, logging big minutes in the regular season and in the postseason. Curry, by contrast, was limited by multiple injuries during the playoffs, and he was clearly not the same player in May and June as he was during his scintillating regular season. Second, Durant put together a strong defensive season, showing meaningful progress in the advanced numbers. While Curry is an improved and underrated defender, he lacks Durant’s length, which impacts plays at the rim, and his versatility. Third, Durant is himself an exceptionally efficient and ruthless scorer, and one who has generally faced a greater degree of difficulty given the talent and systems around him in Oklahoma City than Curry has under Steve Kerr over the last two seasons. Perhaps the single most exciting reason to watch the NBA this season is to see what Durant is capable of once he’s immersed in a smart, unselfish and balanced attack. Finally, Durant’s size and two-way positional versatility give him an edge over Curry in the “vacuum” test. If starting a team from scratch, it would seemingly be easier to use Durant as the cornerstone because he covers more bases and brings more flexibility to the table. The best part about this debate, however, is that it will eventually be settled on the court. (Last year: No. 2)

+ During his nine-year Thunder tenure, Oklahoma City never ranked higher than No. 15 in assist ratio and twice ranked dead last in the NBA. This year, he is set to join a Golden State team that has ranked first in assist ratio in each of the last two seasons
+ Only one player since 1972 has matched his 2015–16 production (28.2 PPG/8.2 RPG/5 APG) in all three categories: Larry Bird (1985, 1987, and 1988) 
Up 3–1 in the West finals against Golden State, he shot 39.5% overall and 26.9% from deep over the final three games of the series as Oklahoma City lost in seven
His ThePlayersTribune.com essay announcing his Warriors decision lacked an authentic voice and a clear explanation of his decision-making process

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