When Russell Westbrook went down with a knee injury in December, Thunder fans were worried. The initial diagnosis was not great; knee surgery required, out until the All-Star game, Reggie Jackson into the lineup.
They probably were right to start panicking, Oklahoma City were just about competitive in a very good Western Conference. Besides, Westbrook had been averaging over 20 points and seven assists per game; you don’t just replace that sort of efficiency.
That is of course unless you have Kevin Durant.
The Thunder forward was told to take the lead, take over the scoring opportunities and prove that he is a star. What has followed can only be described as an MVP performance.
Lets look at the numbers: Durant is averaging 30 points a game alongside seven assists.
He had 35.9 points per game in January and dropped points on basically everyone the Thunder played. The results were unsurprising, as Durant excelled, the Thunder soared to the top of the standings and they now look like an absolute lock for a top three seed in the West.
Just imagine what they would be like with Westbrook right? There lies the problem. Durant doesn’t need Westbrook, and neither does the Thunder. Durant can play without him and has shown that he can play at a terrific level with the team relying on him.
Could the Thunder survive in the playoffs with just Durant? The answer to that question remains to be seen, but consider this: Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trailblazers and Golden State Warriors. All teams, which should make the playoffs, all teams which Durant beat without assistance from Westbrook in the last two months.
So what has made Durant so effective going solo this year? When Westbrook went down during the playoffs, Durant struggled to do it all himself, he was not selfish enough and the Thunder missed the points.
This time around, Durant has been more aggressive he is taking shots when he needs to and as a result is able to take over games and the team have benefitted as a result.
The Thunder will hope that when Westbrook eventually makes a recovery, that Durant will be able to stay aggressive with the ball and keep his scoring streak going all the way to the finals.