Kevin Durant was asked about life on the Oklahoma City Thunder without Russell Westbrook prior to the team’s Game 4 overtime loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, and he responded by saying the only thing he really could: He missed him.
Asked Kevin Durant what he’s learned about himself in the absence of Russell Westbrook. “That we need him,” he said. “We miss him.”
— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) May 13, 2013
Of course Durant misses Westbrook. He’s always known how much the Thunder need him, how many scoring opportunities for himself and the rest of his teammates were created because of him. This is nothing new. For Westbrook’s detractors, however, it just may be.
Westbrook was chided to no end for attempting more shots (18.7) from the floor than Durant (17.7) during the regular season, because of course he was. He’s a point guard. He shouldn’t be shooting more than the second-best player in the league behind LeBron James, especially when he’s hitting on just 43.8 percent of them.
What some didn’t understand is how much of an impact his presence alone has. Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin have gone cold without him. Sans Westbrook, the Thunder’s offense just isn’t as dynamic. Durant has to work harder for his points and Martin isn’t afforded as many spot-up opportunities. The same goes for Ibaka.
While this “need” for Westbrook should come as no surprise, there’s a strong chance a select few still won’t understand how much he means to the team.
Durant is currently putting up a 30-plus PER, higher than he did with Westbrook. There will definitely be some who look to this and say the Durantula is better off without him. Which is naive.
Doing enough? Kevin Durant has a 31.5 PER since Westbrook’s injury, a 9.7% increase from his PER while playing w/Westbrook this season.
— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) May 13, 2013
Durant is doing a lot without Westbrook. I’d even hazard too much. He’s averaging over 43 minutes a game and there are times when he appears visibly exhausted on the court.
Despite his best efforts, the Thunder still dug themselves into a 3-1 hole against the Memphis Grizzlies, who they were 1-2 against during the regular season with Westbrook. That’s a problem.
Also a problem? A player who’s averaging 31.8 points, 9.1 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.4 steals saying he needs to do more (via Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman):
“I can do a lot more,” Durant said Sunday. “It’s always things you can do more. I talk to one of my good friends and he said no matter how good you’re playing you always can do more.
“That’s how I look at it. I just got to find ways to help them out and put them in great positions and continue to just be a vocal leader, a positive leader on the bench and every single time down the court and we’ll be fine.”
I get that you can always do more, I really do. Durant is shooting under 30 percent from deep, so that’s something to build upon. At the same time, is it really save to ask him to do more? He has to be the most overworked player in the NBA right now, even more so than the battered Stephen Curry and certainly more than LeBron or even Carmelo Anthony. He’s now the only superstar on his team, attempting to lead them toward a title, or as close to it as possible.
Those days were supposed to be long gone. He had a top-10 sidekick in Westbrook; he has played alongside him for nearly his entire career. He wasn’t supposed to do this alone.
But now he is. And Durant’s increased workload by itself is enough to make you “miss” Westbrook. Toss in what the point man is capable of doing and how vulnerable the Thunder have become on offense without him (no thanks to Ibaka and Martin), and you can’t help but admit Oklahoma City needs him.
Well, I guess you could, but you’d be in the deplorable minority.
The same minority that would still demand more of Durant after he’s given everything he has without Westbrook.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.