The Oklahoma City Thunder have appeared in three of the last four Western Conference Finals. With their recent loss to the San Antonio Spurs, a dark cloud has set over OKC. There’s a new level of uncertainty, and while they’re neither close to their ceiling nor running out of time – a new question has risen out of the ashes of their defeat. Whose team is the Oklahoma City Thunder?
The regular season MVP award is a joke. In eight out of the last 10 NBA Finals, the regular season MVP has been at home sulking on the couch. Kevin Durant is no exception. He has an unparalleled ability to put up buckets, and although his 30-point playoffs average this year was phenomenal, it’s a small detail of a larger story.
Perhaps we’ve given too much credit to Kevin Durant. Undoubtedly he’s the best in the NBA at scoring, but in crunch time when it mattered, he’s been a bit too democratic. It’s fair to say Durant is cut from a different cloth. He doesn’t share the same team concept as previous greats like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas and others. When it’s time to tell the coach and team to get out of the way and give him the ball, Durant elects to be more sharing — at times to the Thunder’s disadvantage.
Ironically, Russell Westbrook has that attitude. The sixth-year guard knows only one play speed – ridiculously high. At times that’s to the detriment of the Thunder, but he’s proven multiple times that he wants to take the last shot, and for good or bad he’s always looking to forcefully leave his imprint on each contest. Together, Durant and Westbrook create the league’s highest scoring tandem, putting up 53.8 points in the regular season and 56.3 in the playoffs.
Only three championship teams in NBA history have had two players each using more than 30 percent of their team’s possessions–the Los Angeles Lakers with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, Miami Heat with Shaq and Dwyane Wade and the current Heat duo of LeBron James and Wade. Looking to be the fourth team in such elite company, the odds are stacked against the Thunder. Moving forward, exceptional is a standard Westbrook and Durant must play by at a constant, not a fly-by-night luxury.
It’s possible we applied the second-fiddle tag to Westbrook too soon, and he’s constantly attempting to play his way out of what he’d consider an infamous title. Perhaps we’re witnessing a team where the best player doesn’t take ownership.
And there’s no questioning that Durant is the better player.
However Westbrook makes a great case for saying the Thunder is his team. In only 46 regular season contests Westbrook walked away with two triple-double games. Durant appeared in 81 games and put up three triple-double games on the year. Westbrook would sit out 27 games with a knee injury, and Durant would pick up the scoring load, which helped net him the MVP. In the first 30 contests Westbrook and Durant were mentioned as equal MVP candidates.
At the end of the day or in OKC’s case – the season, the Thunder have to be someone’s team. Someone has to step up and take full autonomy of the team’s possessions late in games. If we can’t count on the league MVP to close out games, step up and take the final shot, we need to give recognition to the guy who will.
There’s no way Sam Presti gets rid of Russell Westbrook. So let’s forget who they’ll target and sign in the off-season or if there’s a big trade looming. That stuff is back burner worthy to say the least. Before the Oklahoma City Thunder takes another step onto the hardwood as a unit, we need to know whose team it is … Westbrook’s or Durant’s?