Film Study: LeBron And KD, Head-To-Head

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The season is only 55 percent complete, so it’s way too early to make any kind of call in the MVP race. By leading the Oklahoma City Thunder on an eight-game winning streak without co-star Russell Westbrook and going on a ridiculous scoring binge along the way, Kevin Durant has seemingly taken the lead over LeBron James.

But this is the time of year when James led the Miami Heat to 27 straight wins last season, a streak that included a win in Oklahoma City. Head-to-head matchups could linger in the minds of voters, and the Heat have won six straight games against the Thunder, going back to Game 2 of the 2012 Finals. They’ll look to make it seven in a row on Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Miami, and will have another meeting right after the All-Star break.

Because Durant and James (mostly) play the same position, they truly are going head to head, though one typically defends the other more than vice versa.

In their two meetings last season, James defended Durant on 67 percent of Oklahoma City’s possessions when two were on the floor together. The only time he wasn’t Durant’s primary defender was in the third quarter of the Feb. 14 meeting, a game which the Heat led by 17 at halftime. Dwyane Wade took on Durant duties for most those 12 minutes.

Durant, meanwhile, only defended James on only 44 percent of Miami’s possessions when the two were on the floor together. Thabo Sefolosha was tasked with defending James most of the other possessions, though it was Russell Westbrook‘s job in the fourth quarter of that February game.

Durant and James were their team’s best defenders on their opponent’s best players. Both scored more efficiently when being guarded by other defenders.

Over the two games, when James was guarding him, Durant scored 0.95 (35/37) points per scoring chance (shot from the field or trip to the line). When James wasn’t guarding him, Durant scored 1.48 points per scoring chance (37/25).

When Durant was guarding him, James scored just 0.88 (15/17) points per scoring chance. When Durant wasn’t guarding him, James scored 1.71 (53/31).

Part of the discrepancy is transition opportunities when nobody was really defending them. But it’s clear that each was the other’s toughest matchup.

Nothing easy one-on-one

James is seen as the better defender, but Durant is so darn long. Though they totaled 140 points in the two games, neither guy could get anything easy against the other.

Here’s Durant in an iso against James, hitting a really tough shot.

VIDEO: Kevin Durant hits a tough, isolation shot vs. LeBron James

And here’s a James post-up, where Durant contests a 16-foot, step-back jumper…

VIDEO: Kevin Durant contests LeBron James’ step-back jumper

Easier against the other guys

In Serge Ibaka, the Thunder have another defender with the size and quickness to make things tough on James. But Ibaka only defending James on a couple of switches or transition matchups last season. Shane Battier has typically defended Durant when James has been off the floor, but doesn’t have James’ size and strength.

Wade and Sefolosha really can’t handle the job.

Here’s Durant going right around Wade for an and-one on an iso…

VIDEO: Kevin Durant breezes past Dwyane Wade in an iso situation

And here’s James muscling through Sefolosha on a weak-side duck-in.

VIDEO: Thabo Sefolosha can’t stop LeBron James on this play

Getting the ball out of KD’s hands

While James defended Durant more than Durant defended James, he would have more help from possession to possession. When Durant runs a high pick-and-roll or comes off a pin-down screen to catch the ball on the wing, the Heat will blitz a second defender at him to force the ball out of his hands.

Here’s one such play from the Christmas game last season, where Durant takes a handoff from Kendrick Perkins and immediately gets double-teamed, forcing him to give up the ball…

VIDEO: The Heat bring a strong double team at Kevin Durant

Here’s a link to the Thunder’s second possession of the Feb. 14 meeting, where two defenders chase Durant as he comes off a pin-down.

Durant on the move

So that Durant doesn’t have to go toe-to-toe with James or face double-teams so much, the Thunder can get him the ball on the move. Here, they use him as a screener and he gets an open shot off a flare to the right wing…

VIDEO: Kevin Durant gets open off a flare screen on the wing

Superstar decoys

When Durant is used as a screener, his defender has a difficult decision to make. If he leaves Durant (like above), he’s giving the league’s leading scorer an open shot. But if he stays at home on Durant, the ball-handler has an opening.

The Heat can use James in a similar fashion. On this play, Chalmers gets an opening, because Westbrook stays attached to James…

VIDEO: LeBron James is used as a decoy in the Heat offense

Forcing the switch

The Heat also use James as a screener to get him matched up with a smaller defender. Here, he gets Westbrook in the post, draws the attention of Perkins, and finds Chris Bosh for an easy dunk late in the Christmas game…

VIDEO: The Heat force the Thunder to make a defensive switch

A lot more than just one-on-one

Wednesday is a matchup of the two best basketball players in the world and will make some kind of impact on MVP voting. But how Durant and James play goes well beyond their defense on each other. It’s also about how their coaches and teammates set up their touches, how they take advantage of other matchups and how much help their defenders get from their teammates.


  1. harris27312 says:

    what I am reading is a lot of hate for LBJ and KD. I am an OKC fan and KD is on a tare right now can he keep it up hope so will we have an even better chance when Westbrook get back yes. Watching last night game spoke volumes for the growth that KD has made in leadership and as a player. His confidence level in hisself and in his team has kept OKC in the top of the western conference so haters give KD his due he has earned it.

  2. mezel says:

    you guys also need to know that KD did some training with James, right? Now that tells me something. I don’t know about you. But I think that says it all.

  3. kaibaboy says:

    @Jmaine, so bro…who won the battle last night? scoring is not only driving but a pure shooting so who has the pureness?

    • LOL says:

      who outSCORED who? hahaha LBJbeat KD at his OWN game. Funny stuff right there. Just a silky jumper dont mean ish bro when LBJ can SCORE MORE EFFICIENTLY. Scored MORE than KD with LESS shots.

      So how did all that dancin and pull up jumpers work for him? Oh yea he still got outscored

  4. jayhood says:

    anybody still saying kd is just a scorer clearly knows nothing bout the nba kevin Durant 31.3ppg 7.8rpg 5.2ast
    LeBron james 26.2pts 6.8rpg 6.4ast men lie woman lie numbers don’t

  5. JOMA says:

    where is @JMaine??? say something bro..

  6. Raptor4evah says:

    and the heat lost too lol

  7. javier says:

    KD MVP! all the way

  8. JMaine says:

    @kaibaboy this is what you posted (KD is the best scorer and it is enough for me to take him before Lebron!!!) so u either mis type what you were trying to get across or u said what you think but thats why you got the 1st response from me.

  9. JMaine says:

    MAN I’m having fun.

  10. JMaine says:

    @Imaybewrong 1. LBJ took a talent less team the finals within what 4-5 years in. No second scorer who could get they’re own shot much less be consistant. Scoring is not a problem for LBJ Detroit drops last 25. 9 years in your right but he came in from high school n played like a man since first tip off. Durant has always had a team since Super sonic’s moved to OKC and became the Thunder. Took KD 6 years to make it to the finals and he had a squad and lost avg 30 plus in finals. All KD dose is score no knock on that this year he looks like he is learning how to win. LBJ Game is not just predicated on scoring. That man make every player on his team better then they i.e. Cav years. 45 points in an elimination game against boston. Your right, Scoring will never be a bonus for James. Please notice my sarcasim. He dose not play hero ball cuz his game is better then that. NEXT!!!!!!!!

    You again @Kiababoy You lost me when you said you love fundamentals not dunkers. You dnt stay in the NBA if you dnt have fundametals, some are greater then others. Now I’m going to have fun with you I’ve been waiting for a spurs fan to say some dumb ish. you say your a Spurs Fan then you of all people should know how LBJ took out the greatest fundamental team the league has ever had in a game 7. If my memory serve me right he was raining jumpers on the Spurs. tell me one player who dosen’t flopp so tired of you haters useing that for a reason to hate, but then again i guess that all yall have now. First ring…..What do you want me to tell you? 5 games series, The heat dominated OKC not much for me to tell you beside LBJ Made big time plays when needed and prettty much abused them. All KD did was score. thats all i remember. And dnt get it twisted you have to play team ball to win. if the formula to win a chip is to drop 30 plus point a game then KD would have at least 4 rings by now. Please I am willing to hear anything from any one. I have back up my statement with fact not what i think or what I like to see. Dunking means nothing to me. Dnt think you know what i like cuz i like LBJ over Slim Reaper. I’ve watch this game for years too friend. Just like a hater you can’t see or appreciate greatness when it’s whipping your teams behind, beating them by turning they’re game plan against them. RESPECT. NEXT!!!!!!

  11. kaibaboy says:

    @JMaine, hey bro I know basketball better than you, first cause is ı am a fan who loves fundamental not an only dunker college fan!!! As I said, firstly ı am an europer so you must respect more…also hello from Istanbul…:)
    secondly, İ just said, even scoring is enough for me backing Lebron…I did not say , all is scoring…
    If you are obsesed about championship, then tell me about Lebron’s first team rings??? I am an nba historian so dont hoop, I know about hall oıf rings:)))
    thirdly I am a diehard TD and spurs fan since 2003 not OKC!!! I just dont like Lebron because of his flopping style even he has a ” Hulk body”…enough for you???

  12. JMaine says:

    @bballjunkie appreciate cha. And your right About KD. 82 games is a long season. Lets see if he tears for the rest the season. Slim Reaper Fans beware. this is smoking mirrors. Playoff is a whole nother monster. If you think a team is going to worry about Slim Reaper getting 30-40 points a game your on some good good. hope all other players can pull up and be as efficient as Slim Reaper. By the way that’s the perfect Nick Name for KD. bout time we got one for him. I’m a NBA fan not a team fan so I appreciate all NBA talent. I know what it takes to win the chip and it’s not just being a pure scorer. Ask Kobe what happened the year he dropped 81 and went on that scoring tear. NO Ring.

  13. Malik Jacobs says:

    i agree that kd is catching up, but lebron will have something up his sleeve for kd, i hope the heat end up getting a great defender besides lebron. That will make them a complete and strong team this season. Greg Oden is really showing some process which is allowing Bosh to play PF.I think Bosh is able to be more effective at PF, Center is not for him.

  14. JMaine says:

    @kibaboy And thats why you just lost a championships. Scoring is part of the equation. KD avg 30 plus in the finals. What LBJ dose for his team is alot more then just score learn basketball bra. How many years was KD scoring King? How many Rings he got? Ask AI if he rather be a champ or a scoring king. Better to be thought stupid then to open your moth and reveal all doubt.

    • bballjunkie1 says:

      School em JMaine, KD is coming into his own, maybe this may be his year? 2nd half of the season approaching I hear the footsteps of the King Coming !!

    • iMaybeWrong says:

      @JMaine – 9 seasons for the great LBJ to get his 1st Ring and KD is on his 8th season. Your argument is still a yr shy. Scoring is added bonus – i think LBJ will never see that bonus going forward.

  15. dezjermaine says:

    Reblogged this on Music|Fashion|Sports and commented:
    I would pick Lebron over KD any day, but I must admit KD is improving at a fast rate. For tonight’s game predictions I pick my favorite team the Miami Heat over the Oklahoma City Thunder; with the score being 122-108 two overtimes.

  16. kaibaboy says:

    KD is the best scorer and it is enough for me to take him before Lebron!!!

  17. levente says:

    good one!!!

  18. Cool article John what fascinates me is head to head scoring where on head to head Durant clearly has advantage numbers wise scoring 0.95 points per scoring chance when LJ marking him and 1.48 when LJ not marking him compared to LJ scoring 0.88 with Durant marking him and 1.71 when someone else marking him. yet Durant only marks LJ 44% time where Lebron marks KD 67%. KD can mark him and needs to take more responsibility and lead defensively and mark him more. The 2 best players going head to head really looking forward to this game 2day. GO OKC

  19. Paul Friedericks says:

    Kobe wins

  20. Jeff says:

    Should be a good game tonight!