SLAM Top 50: Kevin Durant, No. 2

Full disclosure: I voted Kevin Durant as the No. 1 player on the #SLAMTop50.

The majority of SLAM voters did not agree and I respect their opinions. But based on what we saw in last year’s Finals, it feels like Durant has closed the gap on LeBron and this upcoming season could mark the “passing of the torch.”

Granted, LeBron put up jaw-dropping numbers in those same Finals, but KD was unstoppable and was rewarded with both the Larry O’Brien trophy and a Finals MVP award.

Since that June night, shit has gotten a little strange for Durant. It started when he said that “Kyrie is better than Allen Iverson” and continued to spiral. His most recent Twitter fiasco reportedly left both Warriors team officials and teammates “perplexed” by the superstar’s offseason and resulted in an awkward apology from Durant to his former teammates and the Thunder franchise.

It was a long, strange offseason. Fortunately for him, he’s just days away to getting back to what he does best—hoop.

Last season, Durant averaged 25.1 points, 8.3 boards (career-high), 4.8 assists, and 1.6 blocks (career-high) per game, while shooting 53.7 percent from the field (career-high) and 37.5 percent from three. He also likely would have been in the thick of the MVP race had he not been sidelined with an injury that limited him to 62 games.

And guess what? In his second season with the Warriors, he could be even better. While the Cavs, Celtics, Thunder, and Rockets figure things out after major roster changes, the Dubs bring the whole squad back and should hit the ground running. That should (and, if we’re to believe Draymond Green, does) make the rest of the NBA scared as hell.

At his best, Durant is unconscious from the field, able to hit shots from all angles and at any length over any defender. Paired with Stephen Curry, Draymond  and Klay Thompson on the court at the same time, he can’t be double teamed. The rest of the NBA has been gearing up to stop LeBron and the Warriors have cracked the code, thanks to luck and savvy roster management. The rest of the League has been in a never before seen arms race, all thanks to KD’s decision to leave the confines of Oklahoma City for the sunshine of the Bay Area.

Durant has rubbed some fans the wrong way, there’s no question about it. From his decision to join the Warriors, to his bizarre social media habits, to his terse press conferences and interviews, KD has become a villainous figure in the League–much like LeBron was at one point in Miami. And similar to LeBron during his “villain era,” Durant has the skills to back up the behavior.

This season, we could realistically see the best offense in NBA history and KD challenging all types of efficiency records. In Cleveland, LeBron has been hampered by an ankle injury all preseason and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he played a maximum of 70 games in the regular season. If Durant can stay healthy, and LeBron slips even a little bit, there’s no reason why he won’t universally be considered the best player in the Leauge by season’s end.

Previous Rankings:
2016: No. 4
2015: No. 3
2014: No. 2
2013: No. 2

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2017-18—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.

No. 50 – Dion Waiters
No. 49 – Ben Simmons 
No. 48 – Brook Lopez
No. 47 — Harrison Barnes
No. 46 — Jrue Holiday
No. 45 — Lonzo Ball
No. 44 — Myles Turner
No. 43 — Goran Dragic
No. 42 — Andre Drummond
No. 41 — Al Horford
No. 40 — LaMarcus Aldridge
No. 39 — Kevin Love
No. 38 — Paul Millsap
No. 37 — Hassan Whiteside
No. 36 — Andrew Wiggins
No. 35 — Marc Gasol
No. 34 – DeAndre Jordan
No. 33 — Bradley Beal
No. 32 — Kemba Walker
No. 31 — CJ McCollum
No. 30 — Devin Booker
No. 29 — Nikola Jokic
No. 28 — Joel Embiid
No. 27 — Mike Conley 
No. 26 — Kyle Lowry
No. 25 — Rudy Gobert

No. 24 — Gordon Hayward
No. 23 — Kristaps Porzingis
No. 22 — Carmelo Anthony
No. 21 — DeMar DeRozan
No. 20 — Blake Griffin
No. 19 — Draymond Green
No. 18 — Chris Paul
No. 17 — Klay Thompson
No. 16 — Jimmy Butler
No. 15 — Isaiah Thomas
No. 14 — Karl-Anthony Towns
No. 13 — Damian Lillard
No. 12 — DeMarcus Cousins
No. 11 — Kyrie Irving
No. 10 — John Wall
No. 9 — Paul George

No. 8 — Anthony Davis
No. 7 — Giannis Antetokounmpo
No. 6 — James Harden
No. 5 — Kawhi Leonard
No. 4 — Stephen Curry
No. 3 — Russell Westbrook
No. 2 — Kevin Durant
No. 1 — LeBron James

GALLERY: 2017 SLAM Top 50 Players