Court Vision: Reflecting on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as collaborators
• As a a component of his multi-part reflection on the five years of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s existence, Royce Young of Daily Thunder explores the working relationship of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant:
“We butt heads just like any other players because we are both competitive, we both want to go at it, we both have ideas,” Durant said in 2011 before the season. “That’s going to happen. But I support him 100 percent. Of course, I hated when people were saying the stuff they were saying, and he hated it as well. I didn’t want it to get to his head. I hate when people try to creep into the group and try to break things up.
“I enjoy playing with Russell so much. I hope he understands that, and I’m sure he does. I’m looking forward to next season already. The last thing I’ve been worrying about is what people say about Russ, and I’m sure that’s the last thing he’s worrying about as well … I don’t want any other point guard. He’s perfect for us, the type of guy he is, the type of player he is, the type of teammate he is. We’re all competitive, especially me and him. We get the best of each other in practice every day, and we want to go at each other and make each other better. We are going to have disagreements. That’s what all good players on good teams do.”
Durant always says the right things, and that’s mostly because he believes in the right things. It’s as if Durant was scientifically engineered in some hidden lab in an experiment to create the perfect teammate. Maybe he had some internal doubts at times, but when it came down to lacing up and playing, Durant trusted Westbrook. He believed in him. The Westbrook-Durant dynamic was always going to work because Durant was going to make it work. He understood the team needed Westbrook to be successful, and through all his flaws and tunnel-vision approach, Durant saw that.
• How much does Jeff Teague’s defense – or the defense of any point guard — matter?
• Where some see the pairing of Dwight Howard and Omer Asik as a potential problem, Rahat Huq of Red 94 sees a goal worth pursuing. It will likely be challenging, but Huq notes that finding a way for the two to play together — and thus for Asik to play some 30 minutes per game — might be only the only means of avoiding the otherwise inevitable dealing of Asik:
My contention, with which I think most people would agree, is that unless he can be given close to 30 minutes per game, Asik either probably should be or will be dealt. This is because it is difficult envisioning the Turk sticking around past the expiration of his current contract to retain a limited role — Morey would likely deal him preemptively to realize his value.
What makes Asik so valuable? Because, with Howard, he allows the team to field a top 10 defense on court, at all times, for the full 48. This point has been beaten to death. But it is my contention that maintaining this 48-minute top 10 defense would be far more impactful than the marginal benefits realized from upgrading the power forward position (via a trade of Asik). Already having a top offense, it is my belief that the Rockets have reached a diminished returns threshold on that end of the court whereby, yes, they have room to improve, but costs invested toward that improvement would be grossly asymmetrical to the end output. To put it simply, when you have the league’s sixth-best offense, but also have other weaknesses, you get the most bang for your buck addressing the weaknesses instead.
• The Kings have struggled beyond belief to find even an average small forward, but could they have finally found a decent candidate for the slot in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute?
• The layup is rarely a basketball action considered for its own merits, but Ethan Sherwood Strauss dedicated a piece to the value (and challenges) of the act and those who convert their lay-ups most and least frequently. Among those layup artists is diminutive point guard Isaiah Thomas:
Pound-for-pound (Copyright: Allen Iverson) the best lay-upper around. At a tiny 5-9 in socks, Thomas shouldn’t be able to hit 67.1 percent on these shots. He has had a lifetime of practice against taller players, though.
Thomas hasn’t mastered any one thing in particular. He just has the full layup repertoire. He’ll switch hands when it suits him. He’ll loft it high off the glass like Steve Nash. He’ll shield off contact with his back while scooping the ball forward. He has the up-and-under down.
Seriously, watch this guy at the rim. Better yet, record this guy at the rim, pause right before the layup happens and appreciate how impossible the feat looks. Water can’t find a way through cracks the way a Thomas layup can.
• Now that Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani are teammates, Jeremy Conlin has gone through the regrettably necessary task of filling out lineups to best complement their inevitable pairing. The arrangement that most interests me is actually the first that Conlin suggests — a five-man lineup of Stoudemire, Bargnani, Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, and Pablo Prigioni. It attempts to offset the limitations of the Stoudemire-Bargnani pairing by putting them on the floor with some of the best possible defenders, while also moving Bargnani to cover the weaker of an opponent’s wings as to mitigate what he gives up in coverage. Things could get messy on offense without any of Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith or Raymond Felton on the floor, but given the limitations of the exercise that’s almost half the fun.
• Jeremy Schmidt considers Caron Butler’s acquisition for all of its peripheral value:
That’s why the Bucks didn’t just pick up Butler alone this offseason. He’s being counted on for both minutes and guidance, just like Pachuila … and Ridnour … and Delfino. The Bucks want all these guys to play right now and seem to think they can combine with some talented young players to make a run at a late playoff spot, but possibly just as important, they want them to fix a wounded locker room atmosphere and show guys like Giannis, Knight and Sanders the way. Individually, their acquisitions seem strange, but as a group, they make more sense. They want these guys to set good examples in practice and care about both ends of the court.
• Kevin Hart validates his casual basketball career with a single block on Raptors guard Kyle Lowry.