It’s as if someone decided to put every possible hurdle in front of the Oklahoma City Thunder this season. From championship contenders, to a team that might not make the playoffs. Russell Westbrook is doing some wonderful things (alongside some awful ones), but all of them without Kevin Durant, who won’t play again this season.
After an MVP year in which he almost dethroned LeBron James as the official best player in the league (but didn’t because he couldn’t take the Thunder to the title or even the Finals, always directly connected to the overall perception of your ability even if it shouldn’t be), Durant is going through a nightmare. He missed all of November, played well through half of December before another injury, played well (normal for his standards) through most of January and played only six times in February before moving into a suit again.
Overall? Durant has played just 27 times for the Thunder this season, averaging 25.4 points per game. The Thunder were doing very well while he was playing even on his off nights because Durant absorbs so much attention from defenses. However, when we’ll look back at this season, we’ll remember this was the first year the question was asked: Is Westbrook better than Durant?
The answer should be no, but we don’t know how severe Durant’s injury is. Sam Presti said he isn’t making the progress expected of him. He hasn’t been officially shut down, but he’s not involved with any basketball activity. If things weren’t bad enough, Serge Ibaka is injured, and now Nick Collison is out too. This means more reason for Russell Westbrook to play like he’s alone out there, while the Thunder are left without a single power forward who is worth anything.
Can the Thunder make the playoffs with so little going for them, except for Westbrook’s incredible statistical output? The Thunder have a two game edge over the Pelicans, who are also basically a one-team player, riding behind Anthony Davis, going wherever he takes them. Westbrook and his relationship with the Thunder is the same, and it’s hard to believe he isn’t relishing the opportunity to shine on his own just a little bit.
Westbrook doesn’t deserve the MVP in my opinion, because he hasn’t been the best player in the league this season. Not because he missed 15 games so far, but mainly because triple doubles are overrated, and unlike James, Curry and Harden, he has had a lot more nights in which he has directly hurt his team because his style of play forces the entire team to commit itself to him; not always something that works.
Westbrook has changed this season, or maybe he is simply finally given the opportunity (or in other words, usage percentage) to play like he has always been able to. We always knew he’s good. We simply never got to catch the 100% version of him, without Durant “getting” in the way.
Westbrook has said once or twice that he needs to trust his teammates more often in the final minutes of games. He has shown a tendency to do that on rare occasions, but more often than not, he tries to do everything on his own. Now that Durant is out for the season and other injuries are hitting the team from every direction, Westbrook has more of a reason to focus just on what he can do, and less on how his teammates can help him.