Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook Now Unquestioned Top 1-2 Punch in NBA

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 20, 2013

Getty Images/Doug Pensinger

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are pretty good at this whole basketball thing. 

In fact, they've used the 2013 portion of the 2013-14 NBA season to emerge as not just the top one-two punch in the league, but the unquestioned No. 1 duo. Batman and Robin ain't got nothing on these two, and neither do the rest of the Association's best tandems, reputations be damned. 

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are pretty close when healthy, but the question of health will always linger around the knees of the Miami Heat's shooting guard, like a bee attracted to a bony hive of honey. 

The Portland Trail Blazers boast a developing duo, but Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge aren't there yet. Neither are Chris Paul and Blake Griffin for the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul George and Roy Hibbert for the Indiana Pacers or J.R. Smith and Andrea Bargnani for whatever team the New York Knicks are playing against. 

No one is. 


The Combined Output

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 14: Russell Westbrook #0 celebrates with teammate Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder after making the three pointer to take the lead against the Golden State Warriors on November 14, 2013 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

There simply isn't another duo in the league that can possibly hope to top the combined offensive output of Westbrook and Durant, and it's thanks to the impact that each player makes with both his scoring and his passing.'s SportVU data keeps track of points created by assists per game, which accounts for the fact that some dimes go for more than two points. Instead of approximating based on the estimated value of the average assist, this is the actual number of points for which a player accounts with his assisting. 

Because of that, a duo's combined offensive output can be calculated by summing each player's points created by assists per game and each player's points scored per game. The results are shown below for the league's top pairings (data accurate as of Dec. 19):

Oh look, it's the OKC duo coming in at No. 1. Surprise, surprise. 

Westbrook and Durant contribute quite a bit in the scoring column, but they also pass the ball well. After all, they were averaging pretty sensational numbers before helping beat the Chicago Bulls to move to 21-4 on the season.

While the point guard was putting up 21 points and 6.7 dimes per game, Durant was adding a league-best 28.6 points and 4.8 assists each contest. And that was before they combined for 52 points and 16 assists in the 12-point victory over the Bulls. 

Since we're talking about total points created, the duo generated 90, which is well above their league-high pace. 

However, this isn't just about offense. 

It's abundantly clear that these two dynamic players produce points in bunches, but they're no slouches on the defensive end either. And that's what often gets overlooked. 

As B/R's Zach Buckley made quite clear in his recent article about the Thunder being better now than ever before, this team boasts a terrific defense: 

Name the metric, and OKC grades out as a defensive juggernaut.

Traditionalists point to the Thunder's 42.0 field-goal percentage allowed, second only to the Indiana Pacers' 41.2. The analytical crowd highlights the club's ability to generate stops (97.9 points allowed per 100 trips, fifth), guard the three-point line (33.2 percent allowed, tied for fourth) and finish possessions (75.2 defensive rebounding percentage, 10th overall).

This is the NBA's anti-Reese's defense. There's no right way to attack it.

The credit for such success can be spread around the entire team, and a heaping portion has to be doled onto Serge Ibaka's plate. But let's not overlook the contributions of Westbrook and Durant, as both are developing into better defenders than they've ever been. 

Westbrook, after struggling against isolation players and spot-up shooters in 2012-13, has put in the necessary work to improve. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), he's now dominating in both of those categories. 

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 11: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder defends against Gary Neal #14 of the San Antonio Spurs on March 11, 2013 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

The dynamic point guard has allowed 0.63 points per possession to isolation players and 0.7 against spot-up shooters, leaving him at No. 14 and 18, respectively, among all NBA players. That's not too shabby, and it still doesn't fully encapsulate the value of his attacking mentality. 

There's a reason Portland head coach Terry Stotts called him an elite defender, per The Oklahoman's Anthony Slater. And Durant has become a solid defensive player as well, no longer hiding on the less glamorous end of the court so that he can conserve energy for offense. 

The league's leading scorer sometimes has trouble against post-up players, but he's been absolutely dominant in other situations. Synergy shows that he's allowing 0.55 points per possession (No. 5 overall) in isolation sets, 0.6 against pick-and-roll ball-handlers (No. 18) and 0.87 against spot-up shooters (No. 70). 

Again, that's not too shabby. 

As revealed by's statistical databases (subscription required), the Thunder score 105.9 points and allow 100.8 points per 100 possessions when this dynamic duo is on the court together. Those respective numbers would place OKC at No. 13 and No. 4 among all 30 of the Association's teams, per Basketball-Reference.

There are no holes to be poked in this reputation.  


Team Success in the Past and Present

Nov 29, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA;  Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook (0) and Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) celebrate an overtime victory over the Golden State Warriors at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Thunder defeated the Wa
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, individual numbers can't be too valuable if they don't produce victories. Fortunately for the Thunder, they do. 

Think back over the past three years. 

During the 2011-12 season, Westbrook and Durant led the Thunder—along with James Harden—to a 47-19 record, one that gave them the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. After ending the San Antonio Spurs' winning streak in the conference finals and advancing to the final round of the playoffs, they eventually bowed out at the hands of an inspired Miami Heat squad eager for revenge after losing to the Dallas Mavericks the year before. 

There's no shame in that, even if the Thunder didn't ultimately win a title. 

The next year, the Thunder proved that they could overcome the loss of Harden, simply because Westbrook and Durant were still on the roster. With 60 wins during the regular season, OKC finished two games ahead of the rest of the West, earning the No. 1 seed for the inevitably deep postseason run. 

Nov 18, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) congratulates Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook (0) in action against the Denver Nuggets during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Ma
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

But then Westbrook went down at the hands knee of Patrick Beverley, and the Thunder plunged into turmoil. As Oklahoma City struggled to get by the Houston Rockets and then fell in rather definitive fashion to the Memphis Grizzlies, it was abundantly clear that Westbrook was highly valuable.

Durant struggled without his partner in crime, and that carried over to the beginning of the 2013-14 campaign. 

When have you ever seen Durant struggle like he did against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 1, scoring 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting? The 'Wolves were able to throw multiple defenders at the scoring leader on each and every possession, hounding him into submission. 

That doesn't happen when Westbrook is on the court. He not only produces his own numbers, but he helps Durant play more efficient basketball, which in turn helps the Thunder win games at a remarkably high level. 

That's exactly what has happened ever since the dynamic floor general returned from offseason arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a stitch in his knee. Oklahoma City is a scorching 19-3 with both superstars on the court, a pace that would leave the team en route to 66 wins if they had been/would stay healthy throughout the season. 

What other duo can say that? 


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