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The B-Side: On Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Substance Via Style

MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 13:  Russell Westbrook #0 and Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder react after their 95-83 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum on May 13, 2011 in Memphis, Tennessee.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Rob MahoneyNBA Lead WriterMarch 19, 2012

'The B-Side' is a recurring feature here at Bleacher Report that gives kudos to the unheralded: the brilliantly executed set that leads to a bland layup, the swarming coverage that causes a shot clock violation or even the phenomenal move that ends with a blown finish. Every night in the NBA is filled with plays that are noteworthy for a wide variety of reasons, and this space is set aside to enjoy the alternatives to the standard highlight—one clip at a time.

Despite the basketball world's apparent compulsion to split the pairing of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook at the seams, the two Thunder stars have a fascinating stylistic chemistry.

Durant is as cool as they come—his personality is stitched into the fiber of his game, bleeding through with every glide down the court or smooth liftoff for a jumper.

Westbrook, fittingly, rides another extreme. Everything Westbrook is and does teeters on the edge of control; every performance seems as though it could easily end with 30 points, 10 turnovers or both, as his manic drives to the rim hold the potential for destruction, one way or another.

Many are apparently unsettled by that juxtaposition of styles, or more accurately, unsettled by Westbrook. He will always have his critics, and they will always have their very narrow view of what Westbrook is and should be.

Too often ignored is the fact that Westbrook's on-court mania is much more of a blessing than it is a curse; that his vision, while imperfect, is still incredibly productive; and that deepest, darkest secret of them all—that Durant needs Westbrook far more than most know.

They're a fitting tandem, and more important yet: a highly effective one. Their contrast (and James Harden's mediation thereof) has come to define not only what makes the Thunder interesting, but also what makes them great.

It's all essential, and no matter how both players change and evolve over the course of their careers, they may very well come to be defined by how they navigate the fascinating sea of tone and type that lies between them.

It's as true in their standard arrangement as it is in this particular clip, where by way of a Portland live-ball turnover, Durant is transformed into something of a point guard. Yet in his swooping collect and stuttered gait, Durant somehow manages to mimic Westbrook without bearing any resemblance at all.

His elongated strides give the entire sequence a quieter feel, but Durant still succumbs to the temptation of the jump pass—that most cardinal of basketball sins which falls right in line with Westbrook's duality.

The pass nonetheless finds its mark: a cutting Westbrook who had been working the baseline in a way all too familiar, attacking a defense's absent back line with all of Durant's speed and strength while only lacking his grace.

That the play ends with a miss is irrelevant; in 20 seconds, Durant and Westbrook switched hats for the hell of it, only to come out on the other side with their similarities cemented in difference.

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