Ask one person and Russell Westbrook is the reason Kevin Durant will leave the Oklahoma City Thunder this summer. Ask another and he’s the reason Durant will re-sign with the Thunder.
It’s impossible to say which line of thinking will ring true, though Westbrook does seem to be the centerpiece of what looks like the most important free-agency period since LeBron James hit the market for the first and second time.
Those who think Westbrook is a negative in Durant’s process point to his shoot-first ways, erratic at times personality and the simple fact Durant might want to be “the guy” in a bigger market, as opposed to sharing the spotlight. Some would even suggest Durant wants to leave, and if Westbrook wants to join him in 2017 wherever he lands, so be it.
But another thought process exists. Westbrook is about as good as it gets in the NBA and wherever Durant goes doesn’t promise to lure superstars, let alone have them mesh well. Ask LeBron how it’s going with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
Westbrook and Durant already mesh well. In fact, they’re meshing better than ever, as USA Today‘s Sam Amick revealed:
Not only is he second in the league in assists (a career-high pace of 10.4 per game), but he’s tops among point guards on winning teams (the Sacramento Kings’ Rajon Rondo leads with 11.7). What’s more, he is – according to information provided by NBA.com/stats – feeding Durant more than ever before. Of Durant’s 356 made field goals that were assisted, Westbrook has been responsible for 240 (67.4%). It’s a serious spike compared to the last regular season in which both superstars were able to stay (mostly) healthy: in 2012-13, Westbrook assisted on 56.7% of Durant’s made field goals (214 of 377).
The numbers say it all. Westbrook averages 10.4 assists this year, a career high up from his previous mark he set last year (8.6).
Then again, maybe this isn’t an evolution of Westbrook’s game to help keep the team together as much as it is a pursuit of individual glory. After all, Westbrook is in a race with history, having recorded 16 triple-doubles and posting efficiency numbers better than the most prolific man in league history, per NBA on ESPN:
This should help give you an idea of just how well Russell Westbrook has been playing. pic.twitter.com/nN0T1yJBSy
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 29, 2016
But that’s not giving Westbrook enough credit.
It doesn’t really matter what the motivation behind Westbrook’s increased generosity is so long as Durant notices it, appreciates it and thinks it will stick around for the long run.
This has been one of the quietest buildups to a notable free-agency appearance in a long time, in large part because of Durant’s personality. If he needed a little motivation to stay loyal to the mid-market team that brought him into the league, Westbrook might have what it takes.
Once thought of as one of the biggest villains in the upcoming Durant saga, Westbrook might just wind up playing the hero.