Stephen A Smith has not always been kind to the Brooklyn Nets, but yesterday morning, he came to Kevin Durant’s defense. To be honest though, he had no choice, and neither does anyone else calling themself a basketball fan.
While going over ESPN’s projected player rankings for the 2022-23 season, Smith noticed an absolute crime against the game—naming seven players ahead of Durant on the list. Anything that egregious needs justice and the First Take host provided that the only way he knew how—with an emotional and no holds barred outtake.
Smith’s anger is well warranted. ESPN’s finished off its list this morning, adding Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic, Joel Embiid, and Stephen Curry to LeBron James and Jayson Tatum as the names ahead of KD.
Given their age and recent MVP-winning seasons, arguments can surely be made for Antetokounmpo and Jokic to be in front of the Slim Reaper. The same goes for Curry, who just capped off an incredible NBA Finals run. But for as talented as they are, Doncic, Embiid, James, and Tatum are essentially four slaps to Durant’s face.
Being that these are projections for a season yet to be played rather than end-of-year rankings, we do not have stats yet to argue on Durant’s behalf. Only the “eye test” is applicable here, but even with that alone, there’s little reason to argue against Durant.
Those who voted for Tatum had to have watched Brooklyn’s playoff series against the Boston Celtics last year and nothing else. Tatum indeed looked much better than Durant in that four-game stretch, but in the other 131 games played between the two last year, the Slim Reaper was on another level.
In terms of Embiid, he’s never been on Durant’s level, who cooked him the last time these two faced off. The 76ers big even named Durant as someone better than him on the Draymond Green Show podcast last spring.
A similar “not yet” ideology can be applied to Luka Doncic. While he indeed looks on track to become the league’s best player at one point in his career, it feels a bit too early to give him that nod.
Durant occupied the top of this list last offseason. Did Doncic look better that much better than Durant last season? Did Doncic look better than Durant at all? If you answered no to either of those questions, viewing Doncic as a better player than KD this coming season is a massive leap.
For King James, although his “decline” last year was not much of a decline, he still looked a bit less explosive and more vulnerable to injury. He made it known that while he remains a top tier player, his best basketball days are likely in the past.
Looking onto another year, it’s a better bet that the 37 year old great will not prove to be better than Durant who remains in his prime at 33 years old.
The votes for James ahead of Durant felt more like courtesy votes given his stature as the face of the league for so long. Be that as it may, they do not feel well placed when you look at what Durant does on the floor and judge how things might go this year.