Pure scorers don’t win championships. Guy who can do more than just one thing are usually more important to contenders. Kevin Durant might be the biggest name and best player on the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has the MVP to show for it. But the most important player in whatever remains of their playoffs and title hopes is Russell Westbrook.
This isn’t because Westbrook scored 40 points to Durant’s 31 in the win over the Spurs in game 4 that tied the series. This isn’t even about Westbrook being a better player, because he isn’t. He is just more influential because of the energy coming off of him when he plays well, unlike Kevin Durant, who like it or not, is simply a more efficient version of Carmelo Anthony.
Durant is the best scorer in the league, with more offensive weapons than anyone. He can outshoot anyone with hands in his face, has incredible range and is a lot better off the dribble than anyone usually likes to admit, with his long arms and superior dribbling skills often making it easy for him to pave his way into the paint against the right defender.
But he isn’t special on the boards. He isn’t a unique passer, only a willing one, and his defense is below mediocre, despite being an exceptional athlete and extremely long. Russell Westbrook can’t score easily as Durant does. When he scored 30 points, you feel it, because Westbrook runs around, scorching the floor like an Energizer bunny with flamethrowers on his feet. But he does a whole lot more than just score.
Westbrook isn’t a willing passer, but he is part point guard in a way, and has better vision than Durant. The problem is that when he is having a bad day, he doesn’t usually fall back on his passing ability, which shines when he blows off of one guy with his speed and first step, almost always creating open shots for others. Westbrook loves taking shots himself, and his biggest games usually come when he is the only one touching the ball on certain possessions.
His defense and his leadership by example is what separates him from Kevin Durant. Westbrook won’t win All-Defensive awards because he isn’t consistent on defense, especially in the regular season. But when he is focused, his athleticism, the best in the league for his position, along with his size and strength, make him quite a nuisance for opposition point guards. He gambles a lot, and as long as he doesn’t get frustrated, he’ll stick to his man like glue and often do a very good job.
Should the San Antonio Spurs worry about Kevin Durant? Obviously. There’s no one better than him on the floor at any given time unless LeBron James is playing. But Durant will get his points most likely, and that’s his only way to affect the game. Westbrook, and Ibaka for example, do so much more than just score. If the Spurs need to worry about just one guy, it has to be the Thunder’s point guard, who has never been quite satisfied with being a number 2 guy.