Posted by Neil Paine on October 7, 2010
Lots of interesting material in the NBA's annual GM survey this week, but I want to focus on one particular item:
"Kevin Durant (56 percent) was voted as the top player GMs would sign to start an NBA franchise."
You can write this off as LeBron James backlash if you want (the GMs also predicted James wouldn't win the 2011 MVP -- though I actually happen to agree there), but 68% of GMs said James was the game's best small forward right now, so I don't think that's it.
Instead, they're essentially saying that LeBron is better now, but they would prefer the total value added by the rest of Durant's career (he's age 22 this season) over the value from the rest of LeBron's career (he'll be 26 this year). Is this the rational choice? Are those extra four years going to push KD's expected rest-of-career value over James', or should you side with LeBron because of his superior track record thus far (and, hence, greater expected peak production)?
Let's break this down quickly using the Simple Projection System. For minutes, let's assume Durant plays just as much as James did from ages 22-25, then assign each minutes according to the career paths of those who were similarly productive at a young age:
Running everything through the SPS method, we get these projections for each season:
The SPS is very simplistic, but it's useful to establish a baseline in cases like this. And according to that baseline projection, you should still prefer to have the remainder of LeBron James' career over the remainder of Kevin Durant's, even though Durant is four years younger.