Russell Westbrook is not why Kevin Durant left
Putting an end to the tired narrative that Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City because of Russell Westbrook and his style of play.
Kevin Durant didn’t leave the Oklahoma City Thunder because of how Russell Westbrook played last night. Russell Westbrook played last night the way he did because Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder.
There’s this wrong narrative out there that “Durant got sick of Westbrook and his erratic behavior on the court.” People claim that the Warriors game plan was to bait Westbrook by switching Durant on him. They knew that Westbrook would abandon the Thunder game plan and take the one-on-one challenge, thus sabotaging the team.
Let’s ignore the fact that Westbrook only took this challenge because of who was switched on him. If Durant doesn’t leave OKC, or goes to a team that wasn’t the Warriors, or calls Westbrook to inform him of the decision; there’s no baiting Westbrook. He looks at Durant as an enemy on the court. Just like he looks at everyone as an enemy on the court But, because it was this version of Durant, yes, Westbrook wanted to take the challenge and go into destruction mode.
Let’s also ignore the fact that Durant switched on Westbrook on a consistent basis in the third quarter, when the Warriors were already up double digits thanks to a second quarter run against the OKC bench. Westbrook tried running the offense in the first quarter. It led to bad turnovers and missed threes.
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Finally, ignoring the fact that OKC outscored the Warriors in the second half and Westbrook was great in the half. He shot the ball well, something that rarely happens, and he dropped 47. So, if the Warriors wanted to bait Westbrook into being a one man show, it backfired.
Revisiting the 2016 Western Conference Finals:
Let’s focus on Game 1. With OKC trailing by 12 at the half, Westbrook exploded for 19 points in the third quarter. Despite this, Westbrook took only four shots in the fourth quarter. You know who took 12 shots? Kevin Durant. Durant missed shot after shot in the fourth quarter, but Westbrook kept feeding him the ball until he hit the dagger at the end.
Focusing on Games 3 and 4 when the Thunder ran the Warriors off the floor. Westbrook had 12 assists in Game 3, and 11 assists in Game 4. It sure didn’t look like Westbrook, or the Thunder as a team, were a problem then.
Next let’s focus on Games 5 and 6. Durant shot 22/62 (35%) in those games, while Westbrook shot 21/55 (38%) and had 19 assists. OKC lost those games because their most efficient scorer suddenly became inefficient, not because Westbrook was ball hogging or stat padding.
In Game 7, Durant tried to overcompensate for his shooting woes by becoming too passive. He got hot at the end when the game was out of reach, but his lack of aggressiveness in the first three quarters led to OKC and Westbrook having to rely on Steven Adams and Andre Roberson in the biggest game of the season.
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Westbrook was always the one adapting:
At a dinner, prior to Durant’s Free Agency Hampton’s Hole Up, Westbrook asked Durant what he could do to change and accommodate Durant better. Anyone who watched the Thunder last season and compared them to prior seasons, saw that Westbrook had been changing his ways to make Durant feel more comfortable. Westbrook seemed willing to change; Durant wasn’t willing to trust him.
All last season, Westbrook constantly placated Durant, and it led to him having the best season of his career. Westbrook finished higher than Durant in the MVP voting, thanks in large part to his unselfish play. Yet, when OKC needed a big basket, he went to Durant. When Durant delivered, Westbrook screamed, “IT’S YOUR TIME!”
Durant gave Billy Donovan’s offense, which was the second-best offense in the league last season, one year. Westbrook moved the ball with Durant in the lineup more than he ever had. Was their offense on the level of Golden State? No, but let’s not expunge Durant from some of that responsibility.
And, let’s not pretend that the roster construction was the same. Sam Presti went out and acquired Victor Oladipo to help with the ball movement from the guard position and Ersan Ilyasova to help with the spacing. Steven Adams and Enes Kanter have greatly improved their passing ability from the post under Donovan. We could have seen more ball movement from the OKC offense this year had Durant stayed, but he never gave it a chance.
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Westbrook remains ‘Team’ focused, but is limited by his roster:
There’s no denying that Westbrook has always been a turnover machine that tries to do too much. His decision making is questionable at best, and he’s the most frustrating basketball player most of us have ever watched. But let’s not pretend that he’s a selfish teammate who only cares about his numbers.
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Westbrook has to put up these triple double numbers this year to keep OKC afloat. He’s playing with a streaky shooting guard, a defensive-minded small forward, a rookie power forward, and an improving center.
Westbrook takes a lot of shots and makes a lot of turnovers because he has to do literally everything as the only guy who can consistently get his own shot and shots for others.
He doesn’t have three All-Stars to carry him. It’s easy to post Vines and say, “this is why KD” left when you can plug anyone into KD’s position on that team, and they’d be just as good. That’s a credit to the Warriors and their system but shouldn’t diminish what he had in OKC.
Saying Durant left because of Russell Westbrook is an oversimplification of the truth and a lazy narrative that perpetuates Durant’s “fake drama” claim. Many factors went into Durant’s decision. Westbrook was no doubt one of them, but Durant’s mindset was the biggest.