Shoot for It: Alex Lee '16 and John Beneville '16

by John Beneville and Alex Lee | 1/19/16 7:22pm

The Oklahoma City Thunder have quietly amassed a solid 30-12 record behind their two superstars small forward Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook.

This season, Durant is averaging 26.5 PPG, 7.7 RPG and 4.4 APG while Westbrook is averaging 24.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG and 9.6 APG.

Today, we debate who is better: Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook?

Alex’s Take:

All hail the Durantula. This one-time MVP has been the epitome of efficiency since entering the league, a quality that Westbrook has sorely lacked. While their raw statistics are similar, KD is shooting .513 from the field and .403 from three whereas Westbrook is shooting .455 and .301. I concede that Russell Westbrook is a supreme athlete, who has improved his basketball IQ, but clearly he still shares too many tendencies with Nick Young.

If Russell Westbrook is so good, why didn’t the Thunder make the playoffs last year? It’s not as if without Durant, the Thunder have no pieces: Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters are no scrubs. However, the Anthony Davis-led Pelicans took their slot in the final few games of the season. Though Westbrook was on a historic statistical run, he’s the kind of player that can stuff the stat-sheet, but his play does not necessarily translate to winning games.

Moreover, I find it hard to like Westbrook. He carries himself with the swagger that a player who has neither won a championship nor an MVP award does not warrant. In his younger days, this used to translate onto the basketball court as West “brick” would often chuck up ill-advised shots much to the dismay of KD standing wide-open in the corner. Though, I admit that Westbrook has much improved this sort of play today. Even with KD’s “I hate the media” attitude over the past few years, we can all appreciate his quiet confidence as a player.

Ultimately, Durant is the better player because of his clear edge in efficiency, which likely stems from his attitude on the court.

John’s Take:

Both players have evolved over the last few years. Although Durant and Westbrook have been superstars for quite some time, attitude changes and small adjustments have allowed them to rise to the top. Durant is, perhaps, the less controversial player, given that he has consistently played smarter basketball and done fewer infuriating things (technicals, wild-shots, etc.) than Westbrook.

Interestingly however, Durant over the last couple of years has taken part in a media war that is unbecoming for a man so talented. My guess is that Durant has felt the pressure of never having won a championship, and that he may be more sensitive (rightfully so, perhaps) to criticism.

Westbrook, of course, is in the same boat when it comes to championships: he hasn’t won anything. That being said, I’m surprised Alex takes issue with players carrying themselves with “swagger” despite never winning a championship. I’m thinking of a particular player that Alex is quite fond of (LeBron “King” James) who tattooed “CHOSEN1” on his back before playing his first game in the NBA. I’m thinking about that man walking around with a smile on his face days after, when to quote Stephen A. Smith, LeBron “wet the bed in the fourth quarter.”

In fact, thinking about this makes me realize how disrespectful Alex’s comments about Westbrook are. Westbrook may be explosive and even a little unhinged at times, but I’m much happier watching him give everything he has night in and night out than watching LeBron take selfies during games and “raise the roof” after performing a boring, wide open dunk. Westbrook plays with a fire that demands respect, and his desire to harness this fire, to reign it in when necessary and to unleash it when necessary is laudable.

Durant is the one who has been too passive these last few years, and his complacency with that passing grade is starting to get on my nerves.