Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are playing as well right now as they ever have together, and the Oklahoma City Thunder are flying high because of it.
Despite major roster turnover and a big trade just before the start of the season, the Thunder have continued the winning ways that have made them the bane of the rest of the NBA in recent seasons.
Westbrook and Durant’s ability to continue to improve and work together is the reason why.
No other team can boast a pair of superstars who currently work better together, or who have been more successful over a sustained period. The fact that they are still young and not in their primes is why many expect this OKC team to be dominant for years to come.
Growing Without Harden
The Oklahoma City Thunder were forced to trade away one of their brightest stars in James Harden just before the 2012-13 season started. However, it appears that removing Harden’s playmaking abilities from the lineup has forced Durant and Westbrook to develop their own playmaking abilities even further.
For the past few seasons, Harden had been the Thunder’s best offensive player when it came to the pick-and-roll. Now, Westbrook has taken that role upon himself.
The fifth-year point guard has seen his assists per game explode from 5.5 to 8.8 through December 23. A big part of that is his new role as the primary initiator of the pick-and-roll.
Together with Serge Ibaka, Westbrook has formed one of the most potent pick-and-roll duos in the league. Ibaka’s newfound mid-range jump shot forces defenses to choose between covering him outside or stopping Westbrook from exploding to the hole.
Durant has also benefited from Harden’s absence by taking on more of the duties running the offense.
While Westbrook has taken over most of those responsibilities, Durant has helped as well. The former Texas forward is averaging career-highs in just about everything except points per game.
Durant’s effort to become a more well-rounded player has made the Thunder a better team. Each season, he has gotten better overall, and each season the Thunder have won more games.
There is a correlation, and the biggest reason the Thunder look better than ever right now is because Durant is playing at his highest level. Harden’s absence has spurned him to those heights.
The Winning Continues
The most convincing evidence to support the idea that Westbrook and Durant’s partnership continues to work is the fact that the Thunder keep winning.
Winning 21 of your team’s 25 games is no easy task, no matter who is on your schedule. If these two players did not work well together, we would know by now.
Every single game, you can count on Westbrook finding Durant for an alley-oop at least once. They are on the same wavelength. As other teams have proven in the past, having two superstars who can harmonize their play makes winning come naturally.
Durant and Westbrook have achieved great heights already. However, their current play seems to indicate that they have the potential to soar even higher in 2013.