By Christian S. Kohl
Currently, the series between the Knicks and Pacers, as well as the contest between Oklahoma City and Memphis stand knotted at 1 game apiece. Which begs the question, with the game, series, or season on the line, would you rather have Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Durant on your squad?
First, let’s admit that such a question poses as pleasant a hypothetical problem an NBA GM could possibly have. These two have emerged as elite performers in a league chock full of eye-popping talent, with Anthony the senior citizen of the two at just 28 to Durant’s 24. Teams all around the league would kill for either one of these premiere talents leading their charge, yet who has distinguished themselves the most?
The astonishing thing about Carmelo is that his points per game have actually increased so far in the postseason, a bump from the “pedestrian” 28.7 per game in the regular season up to 29.3 in the early rounds of the NBA playoffs. He is also sporting 1.4 steals per game rather than his season-long average of 0.8, and his turnover average is down as well. Somebody tell this guy it’s supposed to get harder during the postseason.
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Kevin Durant’s numbers are mind-boggling no matter what the situation, but his postseason work must be analyzed through the lens of Russell Westbrook’s absence. As the lone dominant scorer on his team, now he continues to do precisely that, while playing an additional 4 minutes per game on average. His 33 points per game this postseason is nothing shy of extraordinary, but they are the residue of a star player unwillingly competing in a team sport as a one man army. He would trade a handful of those points and field goal attempts in a second in exchange for a healthy Westbrook and an infinitely more realistic chance at the title.
A side by side comparison of the career numbers for the two reveals a startling amount of similarity. Anthony averages 25 PPG for his career, 26.6 for Durant. 6.8 rebounds per game for Durant, 6.4 for Melo. Each averages 3.1 assists per game. The numbers are as similar as they are scary. The place Durant edges Carmelo slightly is efficiency, taking fewer shots per game to produce the same numbers. Take that along with an extra four years of youth to produce in the league, and Durant in my estimation barely remains the superior option in a comparison of the individual players.
What cannot be denied currently, however, is that Carmelo’s stellar numbers are currently balanced with the production of superior contributors on his team than Durant has. Anthony is the undoubted star on a team which is still precisely that. Durant is currently attempting to effectively play 1 on 5, and succeeding more admirably than many would have guessed. Right now, Durant may be a slightly more talented player than Anthony, but Carmelo is a far more valuable asset in his team’s quest to win a ring. Jordan still needed Pippen and scores of other highly talented role-players to reach the top of the mountain. Throw all the statistical comparisons out the window, and simply ask yourself one question: would Durant like his chances for a ring better right now on the Knicks or the Thunder? If you really want that ring as badly as these two battle for it, in 2013 at least, it’s better to be Carmelo Anthony.
Christian S. Kohl is a sports contributor for CBS Local Digital Media.