Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Considering the Thunder’s performance lately, has your opinion changed of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook or the Thunder? How?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: No change in my opinion of Durant: If he is, in fact, the second-best player in the NBA, he’s No. 2 more than 1A. The step down from LeBron James to the Thunder’s quiet leader is considerable and plain to see with Durant thrust into LeBron-in-Cleveland mode. No change in my opinion of Westbrook, an irrepressible talent whose unbridled game is a nice complement to Durant. But slight change in my opinion of the Thunder. With the premature James Harden trade, they had as big a hand in this iffy postseason as fate (Westbrook’s injury) or Memphis. New CBA or not, front offices should worry about the financial feasibility of keeping a championship team together, not getting out front to shed parts from a contender before its time.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Not at all. They’re a team missing a vital piece. Nobody ever thought Kevin Durant could carry the Thunder to a championship all by himself. I have been a defender of Russell Westbrook for years and always thought those who believed OKC should trade him couldn’t tell the difference between a basketball and a watermelon. Yes, he exercises poor judgment at times. Yes, he takes wild shots and ignores Durant at times. Yes, he’s a fearless, spectacular talent and KD could crawl across broken glass on a bed of hot coals to have all those “problems” in the lineup with him right now.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: No change here. Kevin Durant has shouldered the weight of the franchise admirably. Since Game 1 he’s struggled in crunch time, but he’s had All-Defensive First-Team member Tony Allen all over him and one of the best defensive teams as a whole doing a great job on him late in games. He’s just missed shots, and some free throws, too, which is surprising, but likely a result of fatigue after going so hard all game. I’ve always been Russell Westbrook-backer. To me the guy’s a bullet train and OKC dearly misses his ballhandling and how he runs that offense. Not to mention, he would take Allen off Durant’s case. The Thunder will be back.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It has probably made everyone appreciate Russell Westbrook more. After all the talk in previous years, especially in the playoffs, of being the guy getting in Kevin Durant’s way, now there is proof of what happens when Westbrook really gets out of the way. But the opinion has not changed on Durant. He deserves every positive comment, still.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Nope. Durant’s a great player, but nobody can carry a team against a great defense by himself. Westbrook, though he makes some questionable decisions at times, is a huge part of what the Thunder do offensively. And though he’s not the best defender in the world, he’s disruptive (and a lot better than Reggie Jackson) on that end. Durant played 84 percent of his minutes with Westbrook in the regular season, so this is uncharted territory. And it obviously should be no surprise that they’re struggling to score against the Grizzlies, the best defensive team in the Western Conference.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: There is nothing to change. All we have is confirmation of Thunder’s fans greatest fear, that if one of their superstars goes down the season comes to an end sooner than expected. Durant is still a spectacular player. But the responsibilities without Westbrook around to help do the heavy lifting increase dramatically. Like roughly 28 other teams in the league, the Thunder cannot afford to lose one of their two best players and maintain the same level of play. If anything, I think Westbrook ends up being the beneficiary (strange as it sounds) of his own misfortune with the knee injury. The Thunder are a really good team without him, but not a team capable of finding its way to the championship round. That speaks volumes about his importance to the franchise.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com: The loss of Westbrook hasn’t affected my opinion of him or KD — I always felt the two needed each other and were each others best chance to win a title. If anything I think Westbrook being out has sort of exposed Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin, the two guys who seemed most likely to pick up the scoring slack while Westbrook was gone. Instead, each player’s scoring numbers have stayed flat, which has been disappointing.
Philipp Dornhegge, NBA.com/germany: Not really, no. To me the Thunder always were a two-trick pony, with a bunch of solid-but-not-great role players. Durant and Westbrook both are vital parts of what OKC does and an injury to either one of them was bound to be back-breaking. Westbrook can be a headcase, but that doesn’t take anything away from his talent. And they simply have nobody to replace him. Not after James Harden left. If anything, I was surprised by how great Durant has been as a playmaker rather than the pure scorer that he usually is. He has expanded his game on the fly. Let’s hope he maintains that standard beyond these playoffs. [Philipp Dornhegge is an editor for NBA Deutschland (nba.com/germany)]
Adriano Albuquerque, NBA.com/brasil: Not really. I left the “Russell Westbrook is bad for the Thunder” bandwagon long ago, during the lockout-shortened season. My opinion remains that Westbrook and Durant make a powerful combo, and that the Thunder, when all healthy, are one of the top three teams in the West (if not the entire league). What’s been made even more clear since Westbrook’s injury, though, is they still need more offense from Ibaka and from the bench. Durant is good enough to beat most teams by himself, but even he needs some help against the league’s top defenses. [Adriano Albuquerque is a blogger for NBA Brasil (nba.com/brasil)]