LeBron James and Kevin Durant: A tale of two shooters


(Bill Waugh/Reuters)

This past week marked LeBron James’s second trip to the White House to celebrate another Miami Heat championship. But on the morning of Miami’s Wednesday matchup against the Washington Wizards, word spread that the one some call “King James” still wants more.

James admitted in an ESPN article that he can get envious of the number of shots that Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant puts up in games.

“I do get jealous, I’m not gonna lie,” James said. “I get jealous sometimes when I look over at KD and he’s like 16 for 32 and then 14 for 34. … Man.”

James joining the common practice among fans of comparing arguably the league’s two best players adds hype to a rivalry that has lost some its buzz since they met in the 2012 NBA Finals. But by delving into the statistics on NBA.com/stats, it becomes clear that the gulf between James and Durant’s offensive opportunities isn’t so wide.

James has been the epitome of efficiency this season. Through 37 games, the four-time MVP was shooting a career-high 58.7 percent from the field, marking the eighth straight season he has improved in this category. His 16.2 field goals per game ranked 18th in the league, just behind Washington‘s Bradley Beal and a full 15 spots behind Durant, who averaged 19.4 field goals and shot 49 percent from the field through 38 games.

But when considering the more up-tempo pace at which the Thunder plays, that gap slightly decreases, with James averaging 22.2 shots per 100 possessions and Durant averaging 24.9 attempts.

What’s more, with Russell Westbrook sidelined since Dec. 27 due to knee surgery, Durant’s role in the Thunder offense has naturally increased. In that 10-game stretch, Durant hoisted 25.7 shots per game. Before then, the Montrose Christian alum was averaging just 18.3 attempts.

James, with the likes of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at his disposal, has honed his ability as a distributor since joining the Heat in 2010. Still, within Miami’s more deliberate half-court offense, James takes 28.1 percent of the Heat’s total shots, whereas Durant attempts 30.1 percent of his team’s shots.

During his ESPN interview, James said: “You have to have an unbelievable mind-set to get up 30 shots. I always think about it, though. If I get up high-20s, 30 shots a game, what could I do today, with the way I’m playing?”

What James could do is put up even more amazing numbers, as he was prone to do during his Cleveland days. In his career, LeBron has attempted 30 or more shots on 24 occasions (although only two have come since he joined Miami). Durant has reached this clip just six times in seven seasons, with two coming in the past month.

LeBron James and Kevin Durant
(Robyn Beck/Agence France Presse/Getty Images)

In short, the differing circumstances for Durant and James appear to influence their offensive approach. Durant is averaging a career-high 4.9 assists per game this season but that number pales in comparison to James, whose exceptional court vision has resulted in a career average of 6.9 assists. Still, neither player could be characterized as a ball hog. In fact, Durant has averaged 20 or more shots per game only once in his career, during the 2009-10 season. James has done so five times, all coming during his years in Cleveland, where he averaged 20.8 shots per game compared to 18.1 attempts during his Miami tenure.

Coincidentally, James’s comments surfaced just a few days after Durant noted that he wanted to take fewer shots with Westbrook sidelined. Durant told the Oklahoman:  “I think now I’m just flat-out shooting too much. I have to find a way to get my teammates easier shots. I’ve been thinking these last few games in order for us to get it going I have to do it all offensively. But, nah, we have to do it together. … I may have to pass up a few to find a better shot.”

Just as James did upon forming Miami’s Big Three, Durant’s current attempt to find a balance between focal point and facilitator during Westbrook’s absence could make the difference between him simply winning a scoring title and winning a NBA title come June.

LeBron vs. Durant

Name FGM/G FGA/G FG% FGA/100* %TFGA**
Durant 9.5 19.4 49.0 24.9 30.1
James 9.5 16.2 58.7 22.2 28.1

* Field goals attempted per 100 possessions. ** Percentage of team’s total field goals attempted.

Source: NBA.com/stats with SAP

BY THE NUMBERS

1,503
Days since Greg Oden had played in an NBA game. The former overall No. 1 pick made his season debut with the Miami Heat during its loss in Washington, scoring six points in eight minutes of play.

29,233,380
Seconds since Rajon Rondo last played in a NBA game. The Boston Celtics guard tweeted the number last week, shedding light on his expected return to action for Friday’s home game against the Los Angeles Lakers after undergoing surgery on his torn ACL last February.

QUOTABLE
For [the sneakers] to be the trigger point and for all this to happen is ridiculous. … I’ll figure out what I can do better to help this team and go from there. If I can’t help the team, [there's] no point in me being here

- New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith following Tuesday’s loss to Charlotte, when he was benched for the second time in four games.

“I think we should take a picture, but we should make it quick before one of these guys starts yelling at Mario”

President Obama during Miami’s White House visit in reference to the Heat players’ tendency to chide point guard Mario Chalmers.

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