LeBron James and Kevin Durant have been in competition for the mantle of the best player of our generation. To many, Durant would be considered second best. Both have had high profile teammates and competed against each other at the highest level of the game. They are also both prolific wing players who can do almost anything on the basketball court. Needless to say, any matchup between the two is must-watch basketball.
What if we gave Durant and James the best teammates that they’ve ever had. To see the most of their abilities we also have to give them the best available teammates, so in this case, we will compile their best teammates during their careers. Sort of an all-time team for both MVPs.
It would be interesting what would happen, and who would lead their team to victory over their rivals. This would be a game everybody would want to watch. Without further ado, let’s see what Team LeBron vs. Team Durant would be:
Team LeBron James
Starters: Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Anthony Davis
Reserves: Ray Allen, Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Shane Battier, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Kyle Korver
Team Kevin Durant
Starters: Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green
Bench: James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Steven Adams, Thabo Sefolosha, Andrew Bogut
Point Guard: Kyrie Irving vs. Stephen Curry
We saw this matchup in the finals from 2016-2018. The Cavs won an improbable 2016 title while Kyrie Irving hit one of the most clutch jumpers in history. Irving’s a complete point guard, with the ability to quickly change gears and pull a jumper or do a crazy finish at the rim. Despite this, the edge here goes to Stephen Curry.
Curry may not be as good at handling the ball as Kyrie Irving, but he outshines him almost everywhere else. Curry is the person that brought the 3 point era to the NBA, a 3x Champion, and the only unanimous MVP in NBA history. Neither of them is a world-beater on the defensive side so it isn’t as much a factor in this lineup: but offensively, Curry is a superior option.
Curry and Irving would both score a decent amount of points in this hypothetical matchup, but in terms of pure ability, I would point to Curry’s ability to be transcendent scoring-wise, and score from way beyond the line as the possible game-changer.
Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade vs. Russell Westbrook
Wade and Westbrook are both guards with a similar mold. They are both hyper-athletic guards who could drive to the rim and facilitate for their teammates. In their primes, we can all remember some terrific dunks and their explosiveness on the court. In terms of athleticism in their peak, they are very even.
Where the separation between the two comes is in their basketball ability. Team Durant has very good floor spacing, which would maximize Westbrook’s ability to beat people off the drive and give him the option to pass it out to great open shooters. On Team LeBron the spacing is okay, but a little more cramped as Wade and Davis can shoot but aren’t known as being amazing shooters from beyond the arc.
Russell Westbrook gets the edge on this matchup due to his superior playmaking ability and the starting line up on team Durant matching up with his skillset more so than Team LeBron does with Wade.
Small Forward: LeBron James vs. Klay Thompson
Let’s make this clear: towards the end of the game, LeBron and Durant are guarding each other. No question about that. However, the primary assignment on LeBron would be Klay Thompson. In our simulation, the Warriors run a small-ball lineup, something that they’ve been doing to absolutely dominate defenses.
LeBron James is clearly a better player than Klay Thompson. LeBron is a bruising wing who can set up his teammates, shoot the ball, and score inside almost at will. Conversely, Klay Thompson is an amazing shooter who doesn’t need to do anything but shoot and defend the ball. If Thompson gets hot and drops 40+ (Possible) then this matchup evens out in terms of productivity.
LeBron James obviously wins this matchup with his ability to do anything on the basketball court, though Klay is no slouch and could mitigate some of the offensive impacts that James brings to the game.
Power Forward: Chris Bosh vs. Kevin Durant
If KD is being guarded by Chris Bosh, then he has an advantage. Kevin Durant can already dust anyone that would try and guard him, and if you put a big on him, then it’s game over. Even a big as mobile as bosh would struggle guarding Durant on the perimeter. Bosh is an athletic and mobile big with a lot of length: that way he could at least be a mild nuisance against Durant on the inside and not get blown by every position like a traditional big.
On the offensive side of the ball, Kevin Durant would be feasting and scoring from everywhere. He might not be crowned as the best player in the league anymore, but he is certainly a top 3 scorer. With other players dominating the touches, Chris Bosh would likely focus on floor spacing for the better players around him. It is clear that Durant would be a bigger presence on the court than Chris Bosh, so Durant gets the nod in this matchup.
Center: Anthony Davis vs. Draymond Green
Draymond Green and Anthony Davis would have a similar level of impact on overall defense. Draymond Green is a former DPOY, as well as being instrumental during the Warriors’ few years of dominance. Anthony Davis is a switchable unicorn, able to guard bigs like Nikola Jokic but also wings like Jimmy Butler. Green is an exceptional perimeter and helps defender while Anthony Davis is a switchable player who is slightly worse on the perimeter but an amazing shot-blocker.
Anthony Davis holds the clear edge offensively. Davis is a unicorn who can score from anywhere and do everything. As shown in these playoffs, LeBron James is the perfect co-star for Anthony Davis and their partnership has already resulted in one championship. Keeping in mind that Davis is on Team LeBron, Green’s exceptional defense and the mediocre offense does not win out against Anthony Davis being transcendent on both ends.
Bench vs. Bench
Team LeBron has a great overall bench: a rim running center in Dwight Howard, a playmaker in Rajon Rondo, two shooters in Kyle Korver and Ray Allen, and a 3 and D player in Shane Battier. LeBron makes role players outplay their usual abilities by setting them up with his passing. Rondo and Howard were both at the tail end of their career when winning with LeBron: he gave them the ability to show they were still valuable role players with some dazzle from their star days left in them.
Assuming that every bench player has a smaller role in this matchup, the rotation would mitigate the impact of somebody like James Harden, who would be the main problem in this scenario. Harden gets volume in Houston, but on team Durant, he’d have to play like a sixth man. Steven Adams is a good rebounder and so is Serge Ibaka: but having two bigs on the floor at a time could mean getting run off the floor, so each of them would get more limited minutes. Ibaka is a good stretch 5, which could factor in when Draymond Green needs a sub.
The benches are close, but the advantage goes to Team LeBron for cohesiveness and working well with James’ ability to pass the ball.
Coach: Erik Spoelstra vs. Steve Kerr
Erik Spoelstra proved his ability again this year when he got the Miami Heat to the Finals. This game would reunite him with the best player he’s ever coached: there is no doubt about the chemistry between Spoelstra and LeBron James. Kerr has also coached Durant and ran specific plays in isolation for him: isolation is how Durant gets a lot of his buckets. Needless to say, both coaches know their star player’s tendencies.
Steve Kerr is a coach who instituted the Warriors motion offense: the rest is history with 3 Championships. Erik Spoelstra is a champion himself, having coached LeBron in his Miami days. Both coaches have championship pedigree so there is not necessarily an advantage in that sense.
The slight advantage goes to Steve Kerr since his motion offense can get a lot of role players going offensively. While Spoelstra has LeBron to get his role players going, that isn’t necessarily a system advantage. Spoelstra does have an edge on the defensive side of things: he can definitely slow the game down. But good defense may not matter if everyone on Team Durant is hitting their shots.
Since Durant and James play in the same era, there is one set of rules: the modern rules. There is not going to be as much physicality as in LeBron’s younger days, and the focus is going to be on 3 point shooting and going to the line. Efficient basketball is the key tenet of the modern era. Since both squads have a lot of talent, this game is going to be played similar to an All-Star game, but with way better defense. In basketball, scoring outweighs defense, so it is likely that this game would be high scoring.
To start off in the first quarter, James will try to get his teammates going, while Durant is going to score his points. There will likely be a lot of lobs to Bosh and Davis. Kyrie Irving and Dwyane Wade would be the secondary creation behind James, while Curry and Westbrook would do the same for Durant. Durant would score in isolation, while Curry and Westbrook focus on getting the other teammates involved. Durant would have a lot of points and get hot, but Team LeBron would be up since more players were involved rather than the iso heavy first quarter for Team Durant. Team LeBron is leading by 12 at the end of the 1st, the score is 34-22.
At the end of the first quarter, after Durant sat, Kerr reinstates the motion offense that the Warriors use instead of focusing on Durant. Along with contributions from the subbed in James Harden, and Iguodala stabilizing the defense Team Durant gets it going from 3 point range, and Westbrook starts driving inside or kicking it out to open shooters. Team Durant outscores Team LeBron and gets a better percentage from the outside. At the half Team Durant is down, but in a better position than they were in the first quarter. Team LeBron up by 4 at the half, the score is 54-50.
After halftime, Team Durant continues their roll in the third quarter. Durant is back, and continues scoring, getting off two shots from behind the arc to start. Not satisfied with being up two, Steve Kerr subs in James Harden early, and Team Durant goes on a run courtesy of a fresh legged Harden, and a scorching hot Durant. While LeBron James is scoring and setting up his teammates, it is the individual performance of Kyrie Irving that keeps them in the game. His 10 point outburst towards the end of the third quarter which was capped by a buzzer-beater is nothing short of spectacular. At the end of the third quarter, Team Durant leads by 6 with the score being 86-92.
During the fourth quarter, both teams double down on defense, and the scoring gets a little harder. Team Durant obviously goes to heavy plays for Durant, either having him score against mismatches or set up his teammates when he gets doubled. LeBron James, on the other hand, focuses on driving to the rim and getting foul calls, putting Team Durant’s defensive players such as Draymond Green in trouble. Draymond has to sit for now, and the others have to play more conservative defense, giving Team LeBron more space to operate. Kyle Korver and Ray Allen play some valuable minutes, each knocking down a 3 pointer after some LeBron drives.
Down the stretch, the teams trade shots, and the score is tied 115-115, with a minute left to go. Durant goes to his end game midrange isolation and puts Team Durant up by 2. There are 45 seconds left on the clock, and LeBron drives to the basket and gets doubled, and promptly kicks it out for Anthony Davis who calmly shoots the 3. 36 seconds left, and Team LeBron plays suffocating defense on this possession capping with LeBron James blocking Russell Westbrook at the rim. LeBron takes the ball in transition and lobs a ball to Wade for an easy dunk.
Team Durant tries to rally back, but Chris Bosh plays good defense on Draymond Green, forcing him into a tough shot and a brick. Afterward, LeBron James once again does his clutch play and drives to the rim, powering over Klay Thompson for the two. Team Durant doesn’t score again, and the game is done between the two superstars led teams.
Team LeBron vs. Team Durant 122-117
MVP: LeBron James (30 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists)