In the case of the relationship between Westbrook and Durant, the Warriors were the side-piece in this situation that got promoted to being the main. The constant requirement by the Warriors throughout the season for Durant to leave Westbrook worked, and now he’s all alone in Oklahoma City.
Just like Bryant, Westbrook has let his game do to the talking for him on how he really feels. The relationship Westbrook currently has with his partner of eight years after leaving him for an organization that became relevant across the nation two years ago is unknown.
Letting his game do the talking is the most Westbrook thing possible: stay quiet and let the reports trickle in. With Westbrook being promoted to the leader of the Thunder by default, it’s why the 2016-17 campaign for him has become one of the best individual seasons in league history.
For three seasons Bryant was alone playing for average Laker teams. He had performances that were otherworldly because he had to. His team didn’t have the best second option, so he was a one-man band in tinseltown. Westbrook has scoring help with his backcourt mate in Victor Oladipo and big-man Enes Kanter, who Westbrook actually got benched at times during the playoffs.
Despite the assistance on a playoff-bound team, Westbrook is currently playing like Kobe of the mid-2000s with consistent high-scoring games along with averaging over 30 points per game, with the possibility of finishing the season with a stat-line close to a triple-double.
What seemed far- fetched at the start of the season has become reality with the basketball world, now in “West World” with Westbrook averaging 30.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.2 assists. His season was foreshadowed in the games he played without Durant during their tenure together in which he played 67 career games without him averaging 28.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 8.4 assists.
When the two played together, for a total of 526 games, Westbrook’s averages were 20.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 7.5 assists. So, was Durant holding back Westbrook?
As expected, all of his major stats increased and with Westbrook being Westbrook you’d expect certain categories to increase also: shot-attempts (16.7 with KD, 22.5 without), turnovers (3.6, with Durant, 4.7 without) and field-goal percentage (43.7% with KD, 41.9% without), all stats via StatMuse and before the 2016-17 season.
There’s no need to delve into the increase of stats for Westbrook, because saying he’s having one of the best seasons in league history is simply more than enough of an explanation. He’s become bigger than an alpha dog. He’s become an animal that no person has seen before doing things that were unimaginable until the departure of Durant unleashed the proverbial chains and let him loose on the court. Oklahoma City basketball has become Westbrook, and now the Thunder are officially his team.
Both LeBron and Kobe were deemed alpha dogs on teams that weren’t the best. In the three season gap where Bryant was alone and the Lakers didn’t make the Finals, he averaged 31.5 points per game with a 25.8 PER and 34.7 usage percentage. His stretch included scoring barrages such as an 81-point game and a 50-point game streak. His team wasn’t winning much during that team period, but he did have iconic memories during that run.
For LeBron, his ideal lonely years were basically his first seven in Cleveland. He had overachieved leading that team to the NBA Finals (2007) and Eastern Conference Finals twice (2007, 2009). In his last two seasons in Cleveland, the Cavaliers were favorites to make the Finals, but were defeated by the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics prior to the championship round.
With Westbrook, a question that’ll arise periodically is how long will be the only stat in Oklahoma City? He’s proven that he can carry a team for long stretches and is a player that can be in the driver or passenger seat. Will Westbrook lead the Thunder to the Conference Finals? Probably not. But what he’s doing this season is proof that he’s an ideal teammate others should want to be in the same uniform with.
Only time will tell what will unfold in Oklahoma City as Russell Westbrook continues his MVP campaign and most likely more to come down the line. He can only go solo for so long without the re-creation of a championship team, and right now being single without another star is good, but the honeymoon stage will soon wear off.