For the time being, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are two of the major faces of the NBA. Despite turning 37 years old this year, LeBron is just one year off from winning his fourth Finals MVP and was in the running for regular-season MVP until an injury forced him to take time off.
As for Durant, he is a two-time Finals MVP and is coming off a historic Olympics where he led the USA to their fourth consecutive gold medal. The world is hoping for a Lakers vs. Nets NBA Finals next year. It would be the fourth ever meeting of the two players in the Finals if that were to happen.
Who has the upper hand so far? One player had a better team at the start of his career, while another had a way better team later. For this, it’s not completely fair to go off pure wins and losses because the “superteam” effect skews the results, but it will be noted as we look at the big picture. Also, all points, rebounds, and assists have either been rounded up or rounded down by the nearest half-point for easier analysis.
LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant (Regular Season)
LeBron James: 28.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 7.0 APG; 51%/36%/73% Shooting Splits; 59.7% True Shooting Percentage
Kevin Durant: 29.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 4.0 APG; 48%/41%/88% Shooting Splits; 60.9% True Shooting Percentage
Regular Season Head-To-Head: LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant 15-6
In their career, LeBron and Durant have met 21 times with LeBron owning the heavy advantage. When Durant started with the Supersonics/Thunder, LeBron beat Durant the first six times. When LeBron played for the Miami Heat, not only did the Big 3 of LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh own Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden in the regular season, but also in the 2012 NBA Finals (more on that later).
While the stats are impressive on both ends, you have to marvel at how LeBron-led teams outplayed Durant in the regular season. In Durant’s last year with the Thunder, LeBron beat Durant both times in the regular season. It wasn’t until Durant joined the Warriors that he picked up three of his six wins.
The two haven’t played each other in the regular season since Christmas 2018 due to injuries and COVID. Hopefully, the two can stay healthy as both players represent new squads since the last time they danced.
LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant (NBA Playoffs)
LeBron James: 32.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 9.0 APG; 52%/32%/78% Shooting Splits; 60.2% True Shooting Percentage
Kevin Durant: 32.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 5.0 APG; 55%/43%/91% Shooting Splits; 66.8% True Shooting Percentage
Playoff Head-To-Head: LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant 5-9
Let’s get this out of the way real quick. Durant and LeBron have only met in the playoffs through the NBA Finals. Durant’s career includes the Thunder and Warriors, which are both Western Conference teams. As for LeBron, he has played for the Cavaliers and Heat, both Eastern Conference teams. When LeBron switched to the Lakers, Durant left to join the Nets, so the two flip-flopped.
Anyways, the first matchup between the two was in the 2012 NBA Finals. The Thunder got off to a great start by winning the first game, but then the Heat won four consecutive to take the title. Then, the two met again in the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals, where LeBron was only able to secure one overall win against KD, which included a sweep in 2018 by the Warriors.
The stats, again, are very close, but one eye-popping stat is Durant’s free-throw shooting. In 2017, Durant finished 15-16 in the Warriors' lone loss but was very consistent across the board. Is a 6% true shooting percentage enough to say Durant is the better playoff opponent to LeBron. No, especially given the talent that surrounded him.
Combined Stats And Record
LeBron James: 30.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 8.0 APG; 52%/34%/75% Shooting Splits; 59.9% True Shooting Percentage
Kevin Durant: 30.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 4.0 APG; 51%/42%/89% Shooting Splits; 63.3% True Shooting Percentage
Combined Head-To-Head: LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant 20-15
If you combine the regular season and playoff matchups, as well as the stats, you get a very close replica of two very outstanding players. From points to rebounds to shooting percentage, both LeBron and Durant bring their best game every time. The two aren’t rivals, but it sure feels like it when you look at the stars up close.
LeBron’s stats tell us that he is the better overall player. His rebounds and assists are both higher than Durant’s, including his assists numbers that double KD. The shooting percentages are close, while the true shooting percentages are closer if you factor in the regular season. Even the overall head-to-head matchup is close. Five games is essentially a playoff series if you think about it.
That playoff series could be the NBA Finals. If that were to happen, a sweep by the Nets would still have Durant on the lower end of the overall matchup, but his playoff record would be 13-5. We are getting ahead of ourselves because the two teams are likely to play each other at least twice during the regular season. Hopefully, that matchup comes on Christmas.
In the end, you have to give the edge to LeBron for a couple of reasons. For starters, he does technically own the regular season and combined record. The playoffs are murky territory. While one can argue that LeBron was teamed up with other superstars in Miami, Durant wasn’t playing with scrubs. Durant, Westbrook, Harden, and even Serge Ibaka were pretty darn good basketball players, even at a young age.
Next, Durant teamed up with Steph Curry (reigning two-time MVP), Klay Thompson (second-best shooter at the time), and Draymond Green (Defensive Player of the Year). There is a pretty valid argument that this team, with Durant, would obliterate the Heat team LeBron played with before joining Cleveland. Not to mention, one of those playoff series didn’t have Kyrie Irving (2018) as he left to join Boston, leaving LeBron with Kevin Love and JR Smith.
The numbers that LeBron has in the combined section speak more volume than regular season and playoff. It shows he is the better overall player. If Durant can sweep the season series, and potentially beat LeBron in the NBA Finals, then it would validate everything Durant has done in the past.