Thanks to their impressive playoff run this postseason, the Oklahoma City Thunder came under much heavier fan and media scrutiny than they ever had before.
The two players discussed and overanalyzed the most were James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
Harden had his coming out party, showing up big in many playoff games and putting himself on the nationwide NBA radar. Similarly, Westbrook had his coming out party last year, when he helped a very young, inexperienced Thunder team take the champion Lakers to six games.
But a new postseason has brought heavy criticism on the young point guard, specifically in regard to his decision-making and character.
This has led some to question not only Westbrook’s willingness to be the No. 2 guy in OKC, but also whether or not James Harden might actually be the second-best player behind Durant and over Westbrook.
To answer such a question, one must first understand the question itself: Are we asking if James Harden is the second-best player in OKC or if he will be the second-best offensive option?
The two may sound as though they are one and the same, but there is a crucial difference.
This season, Westbrook made the Western all-star team, was a second team All-NBA selection, and averaged 22 points and eight assists per game. He is explosive getting to the basket and his outside shot has improved.
Harden averaged 12 points per game and just two assists; however, those stats went up drastically after the Thunder traded Jeff Green. Harden has fit nicely into his role as the third scorer off the bench, but his impressive showings this postseason may force him into the starting five for next year.
The truth is this: Westbrook is the second best player on this team.
His vision and playmaking are heavily underrated, and he could be the best athlete playing the point in the NBA. He also has the potential to become an elite on-the-ball defender. Plus, Westbrook has only been a point guard a few years and will only get better in the role.
However, Harden is destined to become the second-best offensive option scoring-wise for the Thunder. He is near automatic from the foul line. Plus, he is a far better outside shooter than Westbrook. Westbrook is more explosive going to the basket, but Harden is craftier and better at avoiding blocked shots.
A good comparison to how these two, along with Durant, will work out can be found in San Antonio. While Duncan was the great player and Parker ran the offense, Ginobili was the spark plug (at times off the bench like Harden) that gave the team its heart.
Westbrook will be the second-best player on this team, leading the offense, but Harden will ultimately be the guy who helps Durant carry the offensive load.
The progression of Westbrook and Harden as they grow into a very formidable backcourt will have a huge effect on the future successes and failures of the Oklahoma City Thunder.