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Is Durant the new LeBron?
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - One nice thing about golf is that there's a ranking system.

There's no need to debate who the best player in the world is. We already know it's Rory McIlroy because that's what the world golf rankings tell us.

Inexplicably, weekly world rankings don't exist for basketball.

As stunning as it is that David Stern may have overlooked this possibility, we haven't really needed player rankings until now. LeBron James has been the best player in the sport without question for the better part of a decade.

But that was before Kevin Durant came into the picture. The Oklahoma City forward has been so brilliant this season that it's made some reconsider his place in the basketball hierarchy.

Is LeBron still the game's best player or has Durantula finally done enough to surpass The King?

I think you know where I'm going with this.

I decided that it's too easy to rank players based on points, rebounds and assists. That's why I'm judging Durant and LeBron on a different criteria, one more suited to the needs of fantasy basketball owners. This checklist includes consistency, durability, efficiency, versatility, volume and a little category I like to call "the blow-up factor."

Other less relevant categories that were considered included tattoo ratio (pretty even), baldness (LeBron in a landslide), education (Durant gets the edge because of his one year at the University of Texas) and Twitter followers (LeBron leads Durant by three and a half million).

And we're off ...

Consistency: Durant has spun together an incredible streak of 19 straight games of 20 or more points. As amazing as that sounds, Durant isn't even within shouting distance of LeBron's streak of 54 consecutive 20-point games, which ended earlier this month against Portland (James was one assist away from a triple-double in that game).

Here's another testament to how absurdly consistent LeBron has been. James has shot 50 percent or better from the field 21 times in his last 25 games. Durant has only done that 17 times over the same span. That's why LeBron gets the nod.

Durability: You ever watch the "Die Hard" movies and wonder how Bruce Willis manages to survive the whole thing? That's what it's like watching Durant and LeBron play night after night.

Durant has been on the floor for 423 of a possible 437 games since entering the league in 2007-08, while James has missed just 33 games since 2003-04. Both have logged heavy minutes with Durant averaging 39.7 mpg this season (second behind Chicago's Luol Deng) compared to an equally exhausting 38.5 mpg for LeBron (sixth in the league).

It's close, but I'm leaning Durant here only because he's had two seasons where he didn't miss a single game, something LeBron has never done.

Efficiency: It seems like James should have a slight advantage because he's shot better this season (55.0 to 52.0) and his career field goal percentage is a full point higher than Durant's (48.7 to 47.3). Add in the fact that LeBron has shot over 50 percent from the field each of the last four seasons and it only strengthens his case.

The counter, of course, would be that LeBron struggles from the free throw line (just 73.8 percent this season), an area where Durant has excelled (second in the NBA at 91 percent). If both players keep up at their current pace, LeBron will have left 137 points on the table this season versus only 69 for Durant.

The free throw discrepancy is significant, but it's tough to ignore the historically great field goal percentage James has posted this season. He wins it by a finger nail.

Versatility: Durant has always been regarded as one of basketball's elite long-range shooters and he hasn't done anything to disprove that notion in 2012-13 (42.1 percent). James, an average shooter from three-point range early in his career (33.4 percent for his career), has closed the gap considerably by shooting a career-high 39.2 percent from that distance this season.

Both are adequate rebounders, but where James really separates himself from Durant is in assists. We haven't seen a player this big distribute the ball like this (7.1 apg) since Magic Johnson was running "Showtime" back in the 1980s.

It's also worth noting that LeBron has racked up 34 triple-doubles in his career compared to just one for Durant. That makes LeBron the obvious choice.

Volume: Durant has attempted more shots than LeBron in three out of the last four seasons, but the disparity isn't as dramatic as you'd might think. Since 2009-10, Durant has taken an average of 19.7 field goal attempts per game versus 19.2 for LeBron.

This season, Durant has taken 25 or more field goal attempts in a game four times including two games where he reached 30 shots. James has only done that on two occasions with his season-high in attempts (26) coming against Houston back on November 12.

Because James has to share the ball with the other members of the Big Three (Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh), we'll let Durant have this category.

Blow-up factor: Forty-point nights were a common occurrence for LeBron back when he was with Cleveland. In South Beach, they've been few and far between.

LeBron's season-high in points (39) came last week in a win over the Lakers. Meanwhile, Durant has already reached 40 points five times this season, including a season-high 52 against Dallas on Friday.

I think we can safely put this one in the "Durant" column.

The verdict: That's three wins for LeBron and three for Durant. A dead heat. The fantasy equivalent of kissing your sister.

In baseball the tie goes to the runner. In basketball, it goes to whoever has the most rings. LeBron still holds the lead in that category, so I'm letting him retain his title as the world's best fantasy basketball player ... for now.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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