Westbrook and Durant: Better Together, or Apart?
Having two MVP caliber players on your roster is a good problem to have. Most teams would kill for that kind of dilemma, but at the end of the day it’s still an issue. Maybe not today and probably not tomorrow, but eventually the chickens come home to roost. After notching his ninth triple double of the season, Westbrook’s MVP argument continues to build, but with the Thunder currently sitting at eighth in the Western conference with 12 games left to play, a date with the Warriors in the first round looks likely, which could mean an early exit. Much of Westbrook’s success this season has to do with the absence of Kevin Durant, who’s currently out indefinitely with a lingering foot injury and has only played in 27 games this year. Durant might not be back this season, but when 2015-16 rolls around, with Westbrook establishing himself as a bonafide superstar and maybe the best point guard in the league, some decisions might need to be made. The familiar arguments that Westbrook is shooting too much or Durant needs to be more aggressive gets a bit more complicated, and the question stands: Can the two coexist? And if not, who needs to go?
There’s no doubt that throughout his career Westbrook has made improvements to his game — the numbers reflect that. But some people wondered if Westbook was a solo act rather than a duo or even a trio in the days of James Harden, we would have seen these astronomically high levels of play sooner? After just one 40-point performance through his first six years, Westbrook has racked up seven games with 40 or more this season, two on nights when those points were part of a triple double. Despite shooting a career high 21 shots per game, the former No. 4 overall pick hasn’t seen a big dip in his shooting percentage and both his free throw attempts and percentage have gone up.
It’s no secret that Durant, a scoring champion and MVP, needs and deserves his touches. In the past, striking a balance when both are on the floor has at times been difficult. More often than not it’s been Westbrook who has taken the bulk of the criticism. It’s been Westbrook who has been called out for shooting too much, being too out of control (a Tasmanian devil type) and not being the textbook definition of a point guard. After the Thunder’s loss in the 2012 Finals, Magic Johnson said, “That was the worst point guard in a championship finals I’ve ever seen. He was too wild. He was taking off balance shots.” To go with all of that is the widely adopted school of thought that Durant was the Thunder’s best player and Westbrook needed to get on board. Whether it was the case or not back then, you could certainly make an argument for Westbrook today. Westbrook’s scoring ability, 27.5 points per game, is on par with Durant’s. To go supplement, Westbrook also adds seven rebounds and about nine assists per game. Westbrook’s versatility might make him even more valuable than Durant.
So …now what? The stars have coexisted and when they’ve been healthy have had some tremendous success. But has Westbrook grown out of the sidekick role? He’s been more than just a handy side kick the past few seasons, and this year he’s been Oklahoma City’s go-to guy. But it’s difficult to envision the Thunder being Russell Westbrook’s team long term.
Ultimately it may be time for Westbrook to look elsewhere. I say Westbrook because as good as he’s been this season, this was Durant’s team first. The offers would come from every- and anywhere he wanted if OKC or Westbrook himself decide to go in that direction. If not, while the duo would remain one of the most talented in the league, a power struggle could ensue and get in the way of the ultimate goal of getting back to the Finals in the brutal Western Conference. With no crystal ball in front of us, we will simply have to wait and see but also weigh the two ideas. What’s more likely: Westbrook in a different uniform being the clear leader of a team or another roller coaster ride of a season as the gap between the stars continues to close or even start to sway in the other direction? Either way, it’s going to be an exciting storyline to watch.
What do you think will happen with Russell Westbrook and the Thunder? Let me know what you think @Dshug24.