Top Dog or Ball Hog? Does Kevin Durant Deserve Better than Russell Westbrook?


Is there a more polarizing figure than Russell Westbrook? I’ve honestly been racking my brain for a while and I’m not sure a top-five player has ever had his game dissected and cross-examined more than Westbrook has. Even on his best nights, the Brodie can’t catch a break. 

A perfect microcosm of this occurred Sunday night during the All-Star game as Westbrook scorched 12 of the planet’s best basketball players for 41 points in a mere 26 minutes, just one shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s 53-year-old All-Star game record. By all accounts, we should have been basking in the glow of Russ’ greatness. Instead, comments like this are being thrown around. 

Granted, Bayless has always been anti-Westbrook but it’s a sad reality that even on Russ’ best night, his accomplishments are always going to get viewed in this scope of “Well, he’s still not a TRUE point guard and that hurts Kevin Durant”. Instead of enjoying the fact that we are getting the rare opportunity to watch two true superstars play together, everyone seems adamant to figure out how this could work better. 

The crazy part is, I’m not sure it CAN work better. 

As I said before, Skip has never been a Westbrook fan. In 2012, Bayless was on one of his typical, slightly misinformed rants when Durant finally responded to the criticism: 

Via Darnell Mayberry: 

"“We’re worse when I take more shots,” Durant said. “Like I said, that guy doesn’t know a thing. I don’t think he watches us. I think he just looks at the stats. And traditionally, a point guard is not supposed to take more shots than everybody else on the team. But we’re better when he does do that and he’s aggressive. And I’m better when I’m out there facilitating, rebounding, defending and being more efficient on my shots with less shots.”"

Essentially, Durant is stating that the Thunder want Russell to attack while Durant becomes the horrifying, multifaceted offensive cog, obliterating opponents off-the-ball when they attempt to stop the hemorrhaging from Westbrook’s full-frontal assault. 

Is this the honest truth though? We’ve always heard that posts demand touches to stay in rhythm (Amar’e Stoudemire in Phoenix is a good example of this), but could a point guard? 

After digging into the numbers, the answer is…essentially, yes. 

In wins since the James Hardenera ended, Durant has put up 18.1 shots per game. Meanwhile, in losses he’s getting about 20 shots off per contest. Want to take a guess as to how many shots Russ averages taking in victories? 18.09. When the Thunder are at their best, Westbrook is scoring at the exact same tempo as Durant, instead of clearly abdicating as a second option. 

But we’re better when he does do that and he’s aggressive”

This is best exemplified by the Thunder’s 12-5 (.706) record in games in which Westbrook takes as many or more shots than Durant vs. the Thunder’s 5-3 (.625) record in games in which Durant outshoots Russell this year. 

These are just surface numbers though. In a practical sense, do KD and Westbrook really flow together? 

 The first two highlights in the video exemplify “good” Durant/Westbrook synergy. At the 0:18 mark, you see Westbrook freeze the help defender at the top of the key while Durant peels off of a screen leaving a helpless Jonas Jerebko trailing him. If Westbrook isn’t, well, Westbrook, Brandon Jennings likely sinks to help cover KD. Unfortunately for Detroit, Jennings can’t afford to sag off of Westbrook and the Pistons instead watch helplessly as Durant scorches Jerebko. 

Next, at the 0:24 second mark, you see Jerebko follow Durant all the way out to the wing as he attempts to rectify his earlier mistake. This, again, puts Detroit in a no-win situation as there is no help-defender under the rim now. Even as Westbrook blows by his defender, Jerebko can’t afford to leave Durant because the drive-and-kick option is every bit as deadly. The Pistons are forced to settle for a shooting foul simply because Durant and Westbrook are too dangerous to leave for even a second. 

That’s not to say everything is perfect. Westbrook sometimes struggles to see the floor, especially late in the shot clock, and ends up dribbling in wild circles in a poorly-designed attempt to break down his defender. That leads to stuff like this: 

Cringe worthy.

Furthermore, when Durant is operating as the chief facilitator for the offense, things tend to really break down. Westbrook is only shooting .281 from three this year, his worst effort since the ‘09-’10 season. Russ is not nearly the off-the-ball player that Durant is and as such, might not be nearly as ideal in this capacity as compared to peers like Kyrie Irving or Chris Paul. 

Ultimately though, KD and Russell are still the best possible teammates for one another. If the Thunder were to try and supplant Westbrook with a more traditional-esque point guard, it would take more away from the team than it would add. Plays like what occurred above at the 0:18 mark don’t happen if Kyle Lowry were playing for the Thunder because the defense isn’t forced to respect his speed to the rim to the same degree that they must with Russ. 

Likewise, Westbrook will likely never have another wing player the caliber of Durant to pull an entire defense away from the rim. There’s a reason why other speedy point guards such as John Wall and Ty Lawson don’t get to the rim with nearly the same consistency or ferocity that Russ does: No one else has Kevin Durant playing alongside them. 

Simply put, Russ and KD are amazing players. I don’t think too many people are disputing that. However, some people seem to have an inclination that they aren’t very well equipped to play together and Westbrook is, to some degree, holding Durant back. That, I will dispute. 

When the two are on their game, there’s no better tandem in the NBA. Even more so, the two understand that. Durant knows that Russ is the most dangerous attacking guard in the league and is at his very best when doing just that; attacking. Furthermore, Westbrook knows that KD is the most terrifying offensive weapon in the game and despite the Brodie’s desire to get his own shots up, he always looks for the Slim Reaper at crunch time. 

It’s time to stop critiquing the occasional imperfections and instead embrace the far more frequent dominance that occurs nightly for OKC. I promise there’s still room for people on the bandwagon. Even you, Skip Bayless.

More from Thunder News