Put together 15 triple-doubles over the course of the regular season, and you’ll often be in the thick of the league MVP chatter. Handling multiple roles for your team, it’s clear to see that if you manage such a feat that you’ll be amongst the very best players in the league.
However, there’s one player this season who has such a stat to lean on, and strangely, many NBA fans don’t even see him as his team’s primary option – that man’s Russell Westbrook, and he should be feeling pretty hard done by.
The Durant vs Westbrook Battle
There is a wealth of riches currently filling the Oklahoma City Thunder roster, that’s for sure. Kevin Durant has long been seen as the team leader, whilst Westbrook has burst out of his shell in emphatic style since being drafted back in 2008. Both players are clearly some of the best in the NBA, but have their roles been unjustly handed out?
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Whilst it’s been Kevin Durant taking podiums for MVP speeches, All-NBA First Team honours and Rookie of the Year awards, Westbrook has had to live in his somewhat lengthy shadow. In fact, if the Oklahoma roster was a pantomime, Westbrook has arguably been cast as the villain – being the target of criticism when they lose, and as a second option when they win.
However, it’s hard to see why that’s the case.
Alongside the league leading 15 triple-doubles this season, Russell Westbrook has scored the ball exceptionally, averaging 23.7 points per game on 45 percent shooting. He’s second in assists only to Rajon Rondo with 10.4 per game and also tied first in the league with 2.1 steals, sparking transition offense whilst also stopping opposing teams in their tracks. What’s more, he’s also the leading rebounder at his position, bringing down 7.7 each night.
That’s just over half a rebound less per night than Durant, for a man who’s losing six-inches in height to his teammate. But stats don’t tell the entire story between these two all-stars…
Follow the Leader
One area where Durant has always been asked to improve upon is his ability to control games effectively. During the Scott Brooks regime (which was almost entirely based on isolation ball between himself and Westbrook), Durant was often criticised for not being ‘alpha’ enough through 48 minutes.
Similar afflictions have been cast on plenty of players, but few seem to fit the bill quite as well as Durant, who despite being named MVP back in 2014, has also been happy to see other players take big shots.
Westbrook stands in complete contrast, happily taking games by the throat and tearing them open until they’re worth no more of his time. This was no more evident than during last season, a year which Durant was largely on the treatment table as opposed to on the court.
Whilst the former MVP was recovering from double foot surgeries, Westbrook was carrying a struggling Thunder franchise on a nightly basis. He recorded a freakish run of four straight triple-doubles in the spring, the most since Michael Jordan’s stretch of seven in the 1988-89 season – quite some company.
Whilst his efforts were ultimately in vain, missing out on the eighth spot to the New Orleans Pelicans, they were still no less astounding, and are often held in higher regard than Durant’s on-court achievements.
But it raises an interesting debate, could Westbrook flourish if Durant decides to head elsewhere in free agency?
Westbrook Without Durant…
Whilst Oklahoma are certainly a stronger side with both Westbrook and Durant on the court, there is still a real chance that the All-Star forward could move on in free agency. However, whilst his loss would be a big one for Oklahoma City, could it prove the best thing for Russell Westbrook?
There’s only one major comparison worth making regarding this kind of question, and that’s of former Oklahoma City guard James Harden, who’s now plying his trade with the Houston Rockets. Although Harden was seeing less time on court than Westbrook is with the Thunder, it was still a shock to see him depart for Houston, in a move which Oklahoma no doubt regret now.
Harden was quick to grasp the leading role in Houston and has since helped guide the franchise to numerous playoff appearances, although a Finals spot still eludes him.
Harden’s success has been clear for all to see, and Westbrook will be imagining a similar picture should Durant move on. Given his performances last season without the former MVP on-court, you wouldn’t bet against Westbrook’s scoring hitting the levels that Durant has set in Thunder blue and white either.
It’s also obvious just how much Billy Donovan loves working with the ferocious point guard as well, with him quick to heap praise on Westbrook – as quoted via ESPN.
“He’s a very, very rare guy, because, in my opinion, if he never took a shot, he can still dominate the game. He can rebound, he can assist, he can defend. He can do anything.
“He’s got an incredible fire to him, an incredible competitiveness to him, and he’s able to play that hard. He’s a really unique, unique player. I love being around him every day”. Donovan said.
Then again, who wouldn’t love being around a player that’s able to rack up more triple doubles than Steph Curry, Lebron James and James Harden combined over the course of a season?
So, even if Kevin Durant ends his relationship with Oklahoma City, it’s clear that not all is lost for the Western Conference powerhouse – and it could result in Westbrook producing even more triple-doubles in years to come…