Giannis Antetokounmpo dominated the NBA Finals to lead the Bucks to their first title in 50 years. He also joined an exclusive club with Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as just one of three players to win MVP, DPOY and Finals MVP in their career. There is a long list of candidates from LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Nikola Jokić, Stephen Curry and so on, but is the Greek Freak the best player on Earth right now? The Crossover staff answers.
During and immediately after his second-round slugfest against the Nets (the best series this postseason had to offer), Giannis Antetokounmpo called Kevin Durant the best player in the world. Anyone who watched those seven games should agree. Durant did everything, often with a ridiculous degree of difficulty; had his best healthy teammate not been Blake Griffin, the Bucks would’ve seen their season end at Barclays Center.
This isn’t to take anything away from Giannis. His case for the throne is an easy one to argue right now. But heading into next season, the answer is Durant.
I’ll be a bit of a contrarian here and take Kevin Durant as the best player alive despite Antetokounmpo’s historic Finals run.
This isn’t to denigrate Giannis. His performance against the Suns stands as one of the greatest Finals efforts of all time, and he’s perhaps the most likable superstar of the century. But perhaps the context of the 2021 Finals is obscuring the debate. Phoenix was a disastrous matchup for the Bucks in hindsight. Chris Paul was swarmed throughout the series by Jrue Holiday and a collection of long wings, and the Suns had zero deterrents for Antetokounmpo aside from Deandre Ayton. Are we sure Antetokounmpo would have channeled prime Shaq against a healthy Lakers or Clippers squad?
Detracting from the Bucks’ title in any way is a foolish exercise. Every title is earned, free of asterisks. Antetokounmpo was brilliant in the Finals, and his performance will be remembered for decades to come. But in a vacuum, Durant’s offensive brilliance still gives him the nod by the slimmest of margins. Let’s hope to see the two superstars duel once again in the 2022 postseason.
Yes, Giannis is the best player on Earth right now. Don’t make this complicated. He just put up the first 50-point closeout Finals game in a half century and physically overwhelmed an entire roster. LeBron, Durant, Steph or Kawhi have never had such a dominant performance in the championship round before. (LeBron came close in 2018, except his team lost, and the two-way brilliance wasn’t there.) Giannis’s defense also gives him a legitimate push in the Best Player Alive conversation. How many of the league’s best are giving a consistent, 48-minute effort on that end of the floor?
Now, does saying Giannis is the current best player in the NBA mean he can’t be beaten? Of course not. And Durant especially has a compelling argument for this title after what he did against Milwaukee in Round 2, though Giannis arguably has a durability edge on KD if you really want to start nitpicking. Ultimately, whoever you have in the conversation for this title, if it’s not Giannis, they’ll be chasing him next season.
No. Giannis unquestionably elevated his status. He's now one of the NBA's best players ever, with a postseason résumé that has begun to even the scales of the one he has in the regular season. But LeBron is still out there, and if not for Anthony Davis’s injury it’s more likely than not Giannis would have faced the Lakers in the Finals. And Kevin Durant nearly sent the Bucks home in the second round with a battered roster behind him. I think Giannis, still just 26, can be called the best player in the world, but it’s going to take another season like this one for it to happen.
I know we’re legally obligated to have this debate annually. But it’s as ludicrous a question today as the year we asked this about Kawhi Leonard, or the year we made it Kevin Durant or the year people tried really hard to make it Stephen Curry. The best player on Earth, when healthy, is still LeBron James.
I know that’s boring and reflexive to some folks, but it’s still verifiably true. Or did everyone forget that the man was a leading MVP candidate before his injury on March 20—averaging 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7.9 assists, and shooting .513 from the field, .368 from 3-point range? Yes, he got hurt and missed some games. Guess what? He still played TEN more games than Durant who, while younger, will forever have the specter of the Achilles injury hanging over him.
As devastating a scorer as Antetokounmpo is, James is still the better shooter, the better passer and the more complete player. Could Giannis emerge as the consensus Best Player on Earth? Yes, but not until James finally and definitively relinquishes the title. He hasn’t yet.
Yes. And while some may view it as a prisoner-of-the-moment response, think about it this way: Antetokounmpo was the two-time reigning MVP until a month ago. If last year’s NBA title and LeBron was the person stopping you from giving Giannis that best player distinction, consider that the gap in durability—particularly with LBJ’s last three seasons, and his mere age—is growing. Only Kawhi Leonard can make the two-way player argument Giannis can, and Kawhi’s durability is an annual question now. Kevin Durant isn’t a given from a health standpoint, either. With the 26-year-old Antetokounmpo and the Bucks sitting on the throne, and him having been this dominant, it’s hard to see how he wouldn’t be the guy for now, at least.
Giannis proved plenty of his doubters wrong en route to winning the NBA title this season, but it's still too early to put the "world's best player" label on him right now. Though Giannis defeated Kevin Durant in the Eastern Conference semifinals, KD currently holds the label with hg to peak form post-Achilles rehab. Giannis deserves all the praise following his Finals performances, but he has to continue building out his portfolio to be on Durant's level at this point.
For the first time in a long time, I cannot definitively say who I believe the best player in the NBA is. LeBron James had held that crown for at least a decade in my mind, but between age and injury, the throne may finally no longer be his. So, if one were to say Giannis has snatched that title after winning the championship with a historic NBA Finals performance, I’d be hard-pressed to disagree strongly. However, I’d still ever so slightly lean toward Kevin Durant. It wasn’t that long ago that KD was an inch away from eliminating the Bucks with his superstar teammates either out or hobbled, and I don't think many people would have said Giannis was better after that series. And given it is so close, I'll let the Greek Freak settle the tie, since he did call Durant the NBA’s best himself.
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