No joy compares to the feeling of checking your NBA fantasy league’s draft order for the first time and seeing your team name listed as No. 1.
With LeBron James on a new, unprecedented super team, old age threatening Kobe Bryant’s minutes and Kevin Durant’s explosion of offense while playing for Team USA over the summer, picking first seemed too easy.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can compare Durant’s numbers over the past two seasons to see how he fared in his first season as the consensus No. 1 fantasy pick:
2010: 30.1 points, 47.6 percent FG, 7.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.4 steals
2011: 27.9 points, 46.4 percent FG, 7.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals
Not that far off, right? Sure his scoring dipped a couple points a game, and his shooting is a little off, but he’s still a great fantasy option.
So why are you reading an article about Durant losing his mojo? Because it’s clear from his body language and game that it’s gone. It’s also clear who took it: Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook spent the first half of the summer plying his trade against the best point guards in the world. Then Team USA’s games began.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski noticed that Westbrook was more than holding his own against the likes of Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose.
Back in July, Coach K gushed, “Russell is a top-percentile athlete who wants to be outstanding. The more I’m around him, the more I love him because he loves to pressure the ball. But I think he can defend off the ball, too. I think he’ll do whatever you want him to do to win. The fact that he has that off-the-ball experience helps.”
Durant shined in his scoring role on Team USA, but Westbrook made the biggest upgrades to his game. The immovable object and the unstoppable force reunited in Thunder uniforms, and expectations justifiably soared.
Certainly the Thunder have had success this season. But in late-game situations, they’re having the same problem as a certain talented team in South Beach: too many chiefs, not enough Indians.
Westbrook has developed a killer instinct late in games, showing his uncanny ability to hit acrobatic, contested jumpers. Westbrook is at his best late in games as a shoot-first point guard.
But Oklahoma City fans gave their hearts and the city's key to Durant, who has appeared unhappy with his role as late-game sidekick, often standing still out on the wing while Westbrook runs the offense.
Unlike the Heat, the Thunder have been able to fly under the radar thus far with their leadership issues. Unfortunately for OKC, this is the kind of problem that doesn’t just work itself out. The playoffs will be here next month, and teams like the Lakers can smell blood in the water.
If you haven’t figured out who the MVP of your own team is, at least you’ll have a longer summer to work on your game.