Whether he admits it or not, Russell Westbrook was hurt by Kevin Durant leaving for Golden State. The two spent eight seasons together and developed a relationship that went far beyond being friends.
Both saw each other transform into top-five NBA players on a championship level team, and Durant broke that bond on Independence Day. Since then, talks around the NBA revolve aroundA some angle from that narrative.
Westbrook has been bombarded with questions about his former teammate and has handled them quite well–not once has he bad-mouthed Durant, even at a juncture when some would think it’s fine for him to do so.
In a recent clip, courtesy of Fred Katz, Westbrook tells reporters he will not be answering any more questions about Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors.
Russell Westbrook was asked about Durant's comments: "We're gonna worry about all the selfish guys we've got over here, apparently." pic.twitter.com/iZkiXu01GW
— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) October 13, 2016
You know that one really bad breakup you had and your friends wouldn’t stop asking you about it? This is the NBA equivalent.
What’s missing from the beginning of the video is another reporter quoting Durant, who had nothing but praise for a Warriors team that’s “selfless.” Yes, KD is praising his new team, but it’s also a fact. Golden State loves to pass the rock and has been the NBA’s assist per game leader each of the last two years. Russ thinks it’s “cute,” because it sounds like an implicit jab about his selfishness.
He has become more selfish, but he produces. And it’s easy to sweep that under the rug when you’re as competitive as OKC was. However, their cohesion issues weren’t so obvious up until a few years ago when Russ was starting to enter superstardom.
Here are some interesting stats, according to NBA.com:
- Touches Per Game in 2013-14 – Westbrook (in 46 games), 75.8; Durant, 70.4
- TPG in 2014-15 – Westbrook, 91.8; Durant (in 27 games), 59.8
- TPG in 2015-16 – Westbrook, 88.8; Durant, 65.3
The 2014-15 season is skewed greatly because of Durant’s injury, but the disparity in last season is glaring. I get that Westbrook is the point guard and needs to facilitate so by nature he’ll hold onto the ball longer, but Durant is just as effective a playmaker as he is. Not only does Westbrook have a significant lead in that department, his possessions were excruciatingly long, and the ball stuck with him for roughly 5.5 seconds each possession.
No one on Golden State holds the ball longer than 3.8 seconds.
Of course, it all needs to tie back to the system. Westbrook having a lot of lengthy possessions would be more acceptable if the Thunder had more touches throughout the course of the game.
Last season, Oklahoma City landed at dead last in the NBA with about 390 touches a night. Westbrook holding onto the ball did the Thunder a ton of detriment because it led to wasted trips on offense.
However, the Thunder need to ball in his or Durant’s hands for them to win. The way Golden State wins is by being unselfish.
Being a “ball hog” doesn’t make Westbrook a bad player, and Kevin Durant wanting to get away from that situation doesn’t make him a bad person. The issue with their cohesion is the similarity with their play styles.
The greatest guard/big man duo ever is Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Their situation is wildly similar to what happened in OKC: two alpha males attempting to get along for the sake of the team. (Yes, I know Phil Jackson played a part in their success by instituting the triangle, but, at the end of the day, players make plays.)
Both Shaq and Kobe wanted to take every shot and the reason they won three titles is because Kobe occupied the perimeter and Shaq locked down the paint. Durant and Westbrook don’t have that dichotomy. They’re both perimeter-oriented, and a majority of their shots come from the same area–if Russ had an adequate three, they would literally be the same player and the Thunder would’ve imploded.
A situation like this is something to be expected. Neither one of basketball’s top-five players wants to take a backseat while still in their prime, and it’s safe to say that that played a part in them not reaching their full potential.
Going back to the video, it’s refreshing to see Westbrook developing a borderline level of disdain for his former teammate. The NBA hasn’t had an edge to it in quite a while, and there aren’t any regular season rivalries that have turned into must-watch matchups.
Psycho-Westbrook is now the league’s must-watch star, and the rivalry between Golden State and Oklahoma City is picking up speed.
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