The Oklahoma City Thunder have been steamrolling the opposition all season, but on the rare occasion they find themselves in need of a basket to tie or win the game, who must take the final shot, Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook?
As arguably the best scorer in the entire NBA, the easy answer is Durant. Ironically enough, the easy answer is also the wrong one.
Westbrook is officially a superstar, yet he is nowhere near Durant’s level of dominance. But that doesn’t mean he should be passed over in favor of the small forward down the stretch.
The problem with Durant taking the last shot is that everyone expects him to take it. Opposing teams expect him to take it, opposing and incumbent fans expect him to take it, and his teammates expect him to take it. Such insight leads to a lot of double-teams, which consequently leads to lower percentage shots.
If Durant were to take them, that is.
Fans and analysts alike moan and groan when Westbrook opts to take a final shot over Durant, but does he really have a choice? Durant, even in low pressure situations, is hounded on the offensive end. Heading into the final seconds, his open looks only become fewer and far between.
And that’s why Westbrook must take the final shot. It’s not because he is more talented and it’s not because he is more clutch of a player. It’s because he will have a better look, nearly every time.
Criticism surrounding Westbrook’s attempts at late game heroics can be spewed until the hosts of such unfounded assertions are blue in the face, but the fact remains the Thunder have a better chance at emerging from close games the victor if Westbrook is their go-to guy down the stretch.
Take Oklahoma City’s recent loss to the Houston Rockets. Durant had three separate chances to give the Thunder the lead, yet he was forced to take jump shots each and every time. Needless to say, he missed all three.
Westbrook was forced to shoot a running jumper at well, the only difference was the game clock was approaching zero, and he had no other choice. Had Oklahoma City gone to him first, perhaps the Thunder would be acknowledging a different outcome.
Defenses will tighten up on Westbrook in the final seconds, yet he will have a wealth of space to create compared to what Durant will be exposed to; h will have a better chance at getting closer to the basket and attempting a higher percentage shot. Durant, on the other hand, will almost always be forced to take a contested jumper.
And with the game on the line, contested is not a circumstance that favors the shooter.
So, the next time fans are heard chanting Durant’s name in the final seconds, remember that such noise is more effective as a decoy. When a game is on the line, Westbrook needs to have the ball in his hands, as the defense is more likely to lapse on his converge than it is Durant’s.
And when speaking in terms of wins and losses, higher caliber shots, not name recognition or power rankings, is what actually matters.
Dan Favale is an avid basketball analyst and firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His work can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.