Two stars are better than oneDurant and Westbrook make the Oklahoma City Thunder a competitive force
Published 2/28/2012Comments (0)
Any team loves to have one superstar who performs at a consistently high level and acts as the poster athlete for the franchise. But sometimes having two superstars can be too much.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have two such players in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Critics say these two threads will not mesh together. They say Westbrook plays too selfishly and takes attention away from Durant. However, the fact remains that the Thunder score points and win games, meaning that this tandem shows plenty of promise.
Entering the All-Star Break, the Thunder own the best record in the NBA at 27-7. Only the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference share that record. Oklahoma City has legitimized that record by beating veteran teams like the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Nonetheless, Westbrook’s shooting habits have caused critics to doubt the long-term success of the Thunder. The point guard takes too many shots and does not pass the ball as much as a he should, ESPN analyst Skip Bayless has said multiple times on his show ESPN First Take.
However, Bayless and most people in the basketball world seem to have no problem with Jeremy Lin, the rookie point guard for the New York Knicks. Yet ESPN’s statistics record shows that Lin averages 5.8 assists per game, while Westbrook follows closely behind with 5.5 per game.
Westbrook does not pass nearly as much as Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns, but that is not his game now.
The game plan in the past involved the point guard Westbrook passing to Durant for the shot. Durant would probably sink that shot, rewarding the team with points and Westbrook with the assist.
Now the Thunder have two players who have emerged as elite scorers in the game. Durant averages 27.9 points per game and Westbrook adds 23.5 per game, according to ESPN. They combined for 91 points in their overtime win against the Denver Nuggets on February 19.
“This will only encourage Westbrook, or West-brick on most nights, to continue to jack up more and more shots,” Bayless said the following morning on ESPN First Take. He referred to the fact that Westbrook took more shots than Durant in that game, even though Durant had the hottest hand early.
Critics like Bayless must have overlooked the wins the Thunder have recorded this season. They also seemingly neglect the potential of this superstar tandem.
Kobe Bryant of the Lakers is the undisputed superstar of that team. He draws double teams from almost every defense in the league and he must attempt difficult shots as a result. He probably rejoices when he has a one-on-one matchup with a defensive player.
Teams cannot use the same defensive game plan against the Thunder. If they double-team Durant, they risk leaving Westbrook alone with one defender. Putting two players on Westbrook risks the same situation with Durant, leaving him virtually open.
“The average shooting guard is 6 feet 5 inches, 6 feet 6 inches. He’s 6 feet 10 inches. You’re at a disadvantage already,” Westbrook said of Durant in News OK.
Doubling up on one of the Thunder’s superstars is almost necessary though. Their shooting ability can thwart man-to-man coverages fairly easily. It hardly matters if Westbrook does not average more assists per game if he can score so easily alongside Durant.
As long as his teammates approve, Westbrook can continue taking shots and contributing more than 20 points per game. Those points help the Thunder win, and most players don’t complain when their team wins. If the Thunder start losing, complaints of Westbrook’s aggressive shooting might arise, but then again, losing means a problem exists somewhere.
If the Thunder do lose more in the second half of the season, Westbrook may need to pass more often. However, nobody will recognize the problem until it arises. These players are professionals, and if Westbrook begins taking too many ill-advised shots, someone will tell him if he does not make the adjustment himself.
No one can predict the future, but barring an unlikely trade, Durant and Westbrook will remain together as an effective dual threat in Oklahoma City for a long time.
The Thunder signed Westbrook to a contract that will pay him $80 million over five years with the team, ESPN reported earlier this year. This coincides with Durant’s contract that will keep him in Oklahoma City through the 2015-16 season. Westbrook’s contract lasts until the end of the 2016-17 season.
Both equally dangerous, this duo represents the promising future of Oklahoma City basketball. Fans and critics alike need to prepare to watch Russell Westbrook provide the lightning to Kevin Durant’s Thunder. The rest of the NBA might want to pay attention as well.