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Kawhi Leonard or Kevin Durant: Who Is Free Agency’s Biggest Prize?

Given an incredible selection, which golden hoop kid would you favor: Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard?

Like an eclipse of the moon, the N.B.A. playoffs this season be offering an bizarre crossing of shadows. Two of the league’s 5 highest gamers will grow to be loose brokers on July 1, and no person as opposed to an agent or favourite uncle has a clue the place they could wash ashore.

Maximum consideration has excited about Durant, that preternaturally gifted seven-foot ahead possessed of a feathery contact and a hawk’s eye for a reducing teammate. He has received consecutive championships with the Golden State Warriors, and the chatter is that he may decamp to the New York Knicks and take a look at to reanimate a way back flatlined workforce.

The encoded assumption is that Durant is the pick out of a wonderful loose agent muddle.

Now Kawhi Leonard has shouldered his manner into that dialog. He already had tossed up an incredible falling out of bounds game-winning shot, snared one-handed rebounds and wrapped Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Dollars’ transcendent big name, in an iron-claw defensive embrace. Then on Thursday night time, limping and not airborne, he unpacked his each transfer, scoring 35 issues on an collection of floaters and jumpers and put backs. He additionally dished 9 assists and pulled down seven rebounds to present the Raptors a three-games-to-two lead in its Jap Convention finals collection.

As Leonard, 27, is 2 years and 9 months more youthful than Durant, does the big name these days in place of abode with the Toronto Raptors be offering higher price?

I put this how-many-angels-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin query – Leonard or Durant – to basketball lifer Clarence Gaines. He used to be scouting swami for the Chicago Bulls right through their glory days and used to be vice chairman of participant staff right through Phil Jackson’s Knick tenure. Prior to that units you to muttering darkly, recall that Gaines insisted on drafting a Latvian unicorn by means of the identify of Kristaps Porzingis.

Gaines used to be well mannered sufficient to supply just a trace of a chortle at my query.

“So that you’re bored?” he requested me. “If you’ll be able to get both of them you are taking them the day gone by, nowadays or the following day.”

O.Okay., however …

Gaines noticed that I used to be no longer getting off the phone and so introduced extra. To attract the comparative measure of the ones stars who loom as Himalayan peaks subsequent to their contemporaries, you should dive into arcana. You start with comparative statistics, that are spectacular if most likely no longer decisive.

Leonard’s playoff street this 12 months is paved with gilded statistics. He has averaged 31 issues and eight.four rebounds a sport right through a run that has taken his workforce 3 rounds into the playoffs right into a taut struggle with the Milwaukee Dollars. He’s taking pictures 52 p.c from the sphere — and his efficiency simplest swelled as he dived into the crucible of the playoffs.

A counterpoint is so as: Durant pulled his calf muscle within the Warriors’ final collection, and so he sat out the convention ultimate. Long gone isn’t forgotten. Prior to his damage, he used to be averaging 34 issues – the easiest playoff moderate of his occupation — and 5 assists in step with sport, and taking pictures 41 p.c from past the Three-point line. He sunk a dagger deep into his workforce’s hardest competitor thus far, the Houston Rockets. And he’s a savvy defender.

In different phrases, he’s no longer unhealthy.

Each males stay startlingly calm within the sport’s frenzied eye. In a sport in opposition to the Dollars this previous Tuesday, Leonard didn’t pile up issues and rebounds, however he gave the distinct impact that efficiency used to be the results of clever design. He does no longer possess the improvisational taking pictures soul of a Stephen Curry or Kyrie Irving, however he reads a sport’s rhythms like a guide.

The Dollars in that Tuesday sport saved last on him like a Venus Flytrap every time he feinted towards the outlet. So he pounded the ball and waited for the defenders to descend and whipped the ball to teammates who in flip hit others reducing to the basket. Toronto’s trainer Nick Nurse termed those Leonard’s “hockey assists”, which means good passes that result in assists in flip.

On protection, he crouched low and prolonged the ones large mitts of his. He has installed stints overlaying Antetokounmpo, and it’s secure to bet the Greek’s goals are actually bewitched by means of visions of Leonard.

Like many basketball males, the basketball guy Gaines’s thoughts runs to mins performed and sturdiness and utilization, which is to mention how a lot stress-filled time the celebrities spend with the ball of their arms. The grandest stars run 12 months after 12 months deep into the playoffs and over the path in their careers will finish up taking part in whole further seasons-worth of video games.

LeBron James has performed 46,235 common season mins – and some other 10,049 mins within the playoffs, or just about one-fifth of his occupation. Durant has performed 31,305 common season mins and some other five,586 within the playoffs.

Leonard’s workload has been rather lighter. He has gathered 14,404 mins within the common season and some other Three,523 within the playoffs.

Accidents are some other measure, and mirror the wages of a cumulative dressed in down. Durant has ignored greater than a dozen video games in step with season in the previous few years. Leonard hastily ignored maximum of final season with a quad pressure, the thriller of which used to be compounded by means of Leonard’s diffidence and refusal to talk about that nature of that damage. He occupies that house between taciturn and mum.

“You notice muscle and tendon traces, the ones are overuse accidents,” Gaines mentioned. “You’re extra at risk of that with age.”

Which brings us to the actuarial charts. crunched data and discovered that a basketball player’s prime is 29 years old, that point where physical talent and the ability to see and dissect a game arrive at a handsome crossroads. Many players slip side rather quickly after that and begin the descent into athletic old age.

That might cause a general manager or two to double-clench at the notion of showering hundreds of millions of dollars on Durant, 30. Against that parsimonious impulse however, we should balance another statistical reality: The very best, those truly worth of the overused term superstar, tend to enjoy longer peaks and far milder downward slopes.

So which one … ?

Gaines smartly declined to take my bait. Me, I’d take the seven-footer who can twirl like a ballet dancer and hit 30 footers over undersized opponents. But if I were Knicks management, and the phlegmatic Leonard gets on the phone, I’d agree to take the lunch meeting and I’d pick up the check too.

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