All eyes will inevitably be on the two top players of each team: Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.
For the past two seasons, these two have battled it out for the top-scoring crown in the league. Whenever they play, the question is almost always asked: who's better?
It's a tough question to answer, especially since there are so many categories to consider when trying to tackle it. Each player possesses a strength and a weakness. But at the end of the day, there is an answer.
To find it, let's break this debate down into five top categories.
This is a tough one. Durant has been the leading scorer in the NBA for the past three seasons. But Kobe is no stranger to scoring titles himself. He already has two under his belt and is working on a third one this year. Not to mention, he likely would have had another one had he decided to score 38 more points in the final games of the season last year.
But that's beside the point. Let's look at where the two stand at the moment.
Kobe is currently leading the NBA with 28.0 points per game, while Durant is second with 26.5. Their percentages have also been sky high this season, but Durant has the slight edge over Kobe this year. He leads Bryant in overall shooting, three-pointers and free throws. It's safe to say that when the two score, the one that does it more effectively is Durant.
It's easy to see why. Kobe takes far too many questionable shots that are tough even for him. It's a shame for the Lakers since he does possess more post moves than Durant.
But the bottom line is that Durant is the more efficient scorer of the two. With three straight scoring titles and a possible fourth, it's clear that he has a very slight edge over Kobe.
In past years this one would have gone to Kobe without a question. But Kobe has digressed recently with his age and Durant's defensive stats are up.
At the moment, KD is averaging 1.6 blocks and 1.6 steals per game. Those are highly impressive numbers. But the fact remains: those are just numbers.
Defensive numbers rarely tell the whole story. Consider this: Magic Johnson led the NBA in steals a few times, but he never earned recognition as a great defender. The fact of the matter was that he wasn't.
Like Magic, Durant has never really been able to lock down players defensively. Kobe, on the other hand, can still do that when his teams needs it. Just consider one of last year's matches between the Lakers and Thunder in which Kobe demanded to guard Russell Westbrook. Remember what happened then? Westbrook finished the night with 3-22 shooting.
Durant hasn't shown he can do that yet.
Kobe still has the edge in defensive recognition. He's earned an All-Defensive First Team nine times in his career. Just last season, Bryant managed to earn a second team selection even in a less productive defensive season. Kevin Durant has yet to earn a single selection yet.
At the end, Kobe is still known as a defender. Durant still has work to do.
If you just look at the statistics, the clear choice would be Kobe. He averages 4.9 assists per game while Durant averages just 4.4.
But there is more to it than that. Numbers alone don't tell the whole story. Some players' specific role is to pass while another player's role is to score.
But consider this: in a team with great points guards like Chris Duhon and Steve Nash, Kobe is still leading his team in assists. Granted, Nash only played for the Lakers for two games, but the fact remains that he is still the team's go-to guy in terms of play-making.
Another straight forward fact is that Durant has never led his own team in assists. Westbrook, a point guard criticized for not passing enough, still manages to pass more than Durant.
Although Durant has been improving in terms of play-making, he is still not the same passer that Kobe is.
This category may seem a little unfair, but it must be included.
Had the two been compared in their primes, Kobe would easily win this. But that's not the case. Durant is simply more athletic than Bryant at the moment.
Durant obviously is taller, more mobile and younger that Bryant. He can fly higher than Bryant and can outrace him in fast-break opportunities. His length and elevation allow him to score over his defenders with so much ease and his quickness simply opens the gates for drives to the basket.
Bryant, who turned 34 this summer, still has hops left in him. But it's not the same. On more than one occasion, even he has blown fast-break opportunities for his team due to the fact that he's much slower than the younger guys.
It's clear who wins by a landslide in this category.
Bryant has been in the league for 17 years and Durant is just starting his sixth year in the NBA. Clearly Kobe has more experience than his younger opponent.
He has more weapons in his arsenal, he knows how to read defenses and he knows how to set effective plays for his team. Essentially, Kobe is the team's on-the-floor coach.
During the Lakers' coaching struggles in the Mike Brown era, Bryant was even forced to take the clipboard and set plays for his team once.
Durant, the younger and less experienced player, has yet to assume that kind of leadership role.
That's what you get when comparing players of different ages. One player clearly has more athletic abilities, but the other player possesses far greater knowledge of the game. It's that advantage that ultimate sets Bryant apart in the end.
Durant was regarded by some as the second best player in the league last year. But that seems a bit premature when considering what Kobe Bryant can still do on a regular basis even at his age.
Durant still has a few gaps in his game that need to be addressed. Kobe has mastered the game and continues to perform well night-in and night-out.
So who is better?
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