Ever since the day he was drafted Russell Westbrook has always challenged Kevin Durant’s status in hierarchy. Whether it’s taking Durant’s rebound, taking Durant’s shot or calling Durant out for his play Westbrook has always challenged him. No one can guard Durant like Westbrook can. And no one can stop Westbrook like Durant can. To most people, Westbrook seems to be somewhat of a hindrance to Kevin Durant. In my eyes I view it as the opposite.
Kevin Durant is one of a kind. He’s a seven footer with a sweet jumper and a mean crossover. He’s savvy, quick, long and hard-working. He can score from 30 feet out, in the post, off the dribble and off of screens. Defensively he can affect people because of his length and he can rebound at a fairly decent level. In crunch time there aren’t too many if any, guys you’d rather want taking the shot. He’s an incredible gifted young player who’s ceiling is high. I get it. But the Thunder don’t go as he goes. He may be the captain, but he’s damn sure not the driver.
For as long as I can remember Durant’s impact has always been third.
Back when Harden was on the roster his impact on the game greater than that of KD’s. He would come in off of the bench and provide a lift. Harden would hit momentous shots, lockup well make things tough on opposing guards who could score, (see Kobe in 2012) as well as distribute the ball. He was arguably the best playmaker on the team dare I say the most important, because when he didn’t show up (Finals against the Heat) they struggled. And when he did ( Spurs series) they dominated.
Today Ibaka has a more prominent effect on the game than Durant does. Without Ibaka OKC struggles when it comes to defending the paint and rebounding. With Ibaka everyone is better and he shuts down who ever is presumed to be a threat on the block. This past year in the Playoffs OKC struggled when Ibaka was out. His absence left a void offensively and defensively. They struggled to find the appropriate space offensively and defensively they couldn’t stop anyone.
But enough of Ibaka and Harden this is about Westbrook.
With Harden on the squad Westbrook’s impact was still greater than Durant’s. He brought the edge and physicality the team needed. As well as the drive and hunger.
Westbrook would and still will provide a spark, a boost if you will that has a greater impact than Durant. For example when Durant scores 30 it’s more of a suprise because it goes unnoticed or should I say wasn’t necessarily felt. Whenever Westbrook scores alot you tend to think it was more because he does it in a more demoralizing way. Owning who ever tries to guard him.
Durant’s numbers may appear large on the stat sheet but within the game they aren’t as impactful as many would believe. I view him as a great quiet scorer. Westbrook’s scoring prowess/wrath in retrospect is more devastating than that of Durant’s. Westbrook’s presence is felt. Durant’s can go unnoticed.
Unless Durant is scorching hot and lighting it up I don’t view him as the best player on the team. I find myself looking and watching for Westbrook more than anyone else. He never takes a play off while you’ll often see Durant flail his arms and make faces whenever things don’t go his way. He’ll also stop trying all together when he can’t get open.
On the defensive side of the ball Westbrook makes it hard on other guards. He’s a big physical guard that has alot of athleticism with arms that are pretty lengthy to go along with the strength he has. He can lockup guys when need be and he excels in playing the passing lanes.
Westbrook is easily OKC’s best two way player.
But now he has clearly become their most important player.
With Kevin Durant sidelined with a foot injury until December (I say longer because those injuries always come with setbacks…Yao..Brook Lopez..etc) he now has a chance to show that he can lead a team on his own. He won’t have to be in Durant’s shadow early. And if he performs like I expect him to he won’t have to ever again.
We’ve seen Westbrook take over games with his defense. We’ve seen him hit game clinching buckets. We’ve seen his play making ability. We’ve seen his edge, heart, desire, drive and hunger. We know he’s a stud. But now it’s time for him to elevate his game even higher.
I see a Kobe Bryant like ceiling for Westbrook. If he was the main guy he would shine and people would appreciate his greatness alot more.
He’s a Top 5 guy in this league while playing alongside Durant. And after this season I suspect him to be top two or three.
Kevin Durant’s injury hurts no doubt, but it’ll prove to be a blessing in disguise.
Westbrook’s chance to lead has finally come and he must now seize the moment. It’s his time now and all eyes are on him.