- Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer
There are some components of Sunday's meeting between Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony (1 p.m. ET, ABC) about which we can compare similarities. It's the best possible matchup of high-level scorers that we currently have in the league, as Durant (first, at 29.2 points per game) and Anthony (second, at 28.1) carry by far the highest averages since the start of last season. However, once we move beyond just the scoring category, most rational observers would agree that Durant is the superior player. Pretty much everyone, the irrational included, would also agree that Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder team is a much more sound group than Anthony's disappointing New York Knicks.
There is a subtle similarity in the respective games of Durant and Anthony that might not be immediately apparent. Both players have such a high degree of skill, length and shooting ability that they could come down and get a relatively clean look at a jump shot on nearly every possession of any given game. When breaking down the skill set of an offensive player, near the top of the list is the ability to create his own shot, and it's not an easy trait to develop at the NBA level. Durant and Anthony can do it so effortlessly that it's almost an afterthought.
The ability to get clean looks at will can be as much of an affliction as it is an attribute. So it's a fine line that Durant and Anthony must walk, because even they would agree that the game isn't about scoring average, it's about winning percentage. Over the past five seasons, the Thunder have won 56.8 of every 82 games played. Anthony's past half-decade split between Denver and New York has yielded 47 wins per 82. You can argue that the 9.6 extra wins Durant enjoys on average is a product of superior teammates. That is true to a degree, as Anthony has never had a teammate on the level of either Russell Westbrook or James Harden.
However, consider this: Including this season's pace, Durant has averaged 19.5 WARP (wins above replacement player) over the past five years, while Anthony is at 10.4. The difference (9.1) in player value mirrors that of team success. So while you can often split hairs when using metrics to settle who-is-better arguments, it's not going to raise much of a fuss when I declare Durant the markedly superior player. But why does one star player contribute to so many more wins than the other star player, when their standout trait -- scoring -- is the same?
1mEthan Sherwood Strauss
1dMatt Walks, ESPN.com