If necessity is the mother of invention, then perhaps our need to follow only the greatest players throughout the postseason has helped us understand basketball better. One day I hope that Russell Westbrook - the man after whom I will name my firstborn son - has enough understanding himself. Why? Because when the most powerful guard of all time channels his frenetic-baked freneticism, he solves basketball.
BOX SCORES? WE DON’T NEED NO STINKING BOX SCORES…
Surely, ye jest?! Don’t call me Shirley. But Westbrook’s astounding counting stats (the easy stuff, like points, rebounds, and assists) are the first place to look when asserting his greatness to strangers on the Internet. Look at the big fancy numbers!
Except it is 2016, and the 2015 league-leader in scoring gets no respect as a scorer because he pulled off that scoring title while making a pedestrian 43 percent of his shots from the field. Readers and observers are smarter nowadays, and the casual triple double no longer excites so easily. Thus, out of necessity, I will invent a rule never seen before.
After countless playoff series with Kevin Durant and Westbrook, talking heads cite low shooting percentages and ball hogging as the prime reasons for OKC’s postseason demises. Our perception of their chemistry - influenced by GIFs and Instagram posts of on-court action and real life "brotherhood" - is cloudy at best, and at times it is unclear how well the beanpole and pitbull actually mesh together.
And yet the duo continues to work together, grow together, and are now greater together than they are individually. We can debate the causes of this: time spent apart due to alternating injury cycles, postseason experience, or nearly a decade spent together as teammates are all possibilities.
So are they friends or foes? LeBron and Wade or Kobe and Shaq? The truth lies in strengths and weaknesses relative to each other. Westbrook is a horrendous shooter from deep, regardless of how well he has "mastered" his midrange game. Durant turns the ball over at an alarming rate for a forward, suggesting that his ball handling and ability to survive when under pressure may be suspect.
On a brighter note, Durant is second-greatest shooter of his generation (see: Curry Stephen), and Westbrook has feasted on passing lanes that only the most disruptive rim attacker in the league could create. Russell might never develop a jump shot as effective as Durant’s, while Durant may never have the athletic advantage Russell has enjoyed for years. Those who mocked Russell for jacking up shots with a Kobe-esque attitude without the Kobe-esque success often cling to this as the principal reason for Kevin’s superiority as a player. And yet, those same ingrates must realize Durant’s lofty percentages do not exist without Russell’s attacking.
DURANT THE ANGEL
Picture this scenario: Durant ends a game with 25+ points with a mere five missed shots, while Westbrook misses more shots, take more shots, and score fewer points. Sound familiar? If we agree that Durant is the demigod of shooting efficiency, why is his teammate eating his lunch? Because Durant does not maintain those sexy percentages and point totals when faced with the full force of an opposing defense’s resources and attention, that’s why! As devastating a talent as he is, a six foot three inch silver bullet trampling towards the rim will force a defender to instinctively panic more than a gangly seven-footer bombing away from 30 feet.
After losing Westbrook in the first round of the 2013 playoffs, Durant suffered greatly and the Thunder lost to the Grizzlies in the second round - earlier that season they had posted one of the greatest point differentials of all time. Russell failed to win games last season with Durant out for extended periods of time. These trials only have only strengthened the bond the two share, and have reinforced their desire to stick together against the LeBrons, Warriors, and Spurs who never seemed to go away. They might stumble, but these Thunder pushed through major injuries every year and remain a title contender.
However, a subtle nuance between the Thunder and their contemporaries is identity. LeBron has his sidekicks, the Spurs have their system, and the Warriors have their shooters. Those teams wear those styles on their sleeves, living and dying by them. So what is the identity of this team, boasting two of the league’s top five players? Four-TS.
The numbers substantiating Russell’s sacrifice come "fourth" in the name of the rule.
If the two highest scorers on team A have a combined true shooting percentage greater than the combined shooting true percentage of the two highest scorers on team B, then team A will win by the difference in combined true shooting percentage. This rule requires that we fuse both players’ numbers into one and recalculate their true shooting percentage, and not simply calculate an average.
What this means to casual fans is that Russell bears the brunt of defensive attention with his driving so that Durant can sink catch and shoot attempts with zero defenders near him with razor-sharp efficiency. This also minimizes Durant’s ball handling woes and assures easier conversion of a KD catch-and-drive, because Durant will be attacking a defense already bent by a Russell pick-and-roll. While Russell’s percentages want for lack of efficiency relative to Durant’s, he more than makes up for it with those powerful passes and crazy drives to the basket. For those Thunder fans that never got geometry, stay calm - the Xs and Os work out just fine.
Do I have proof this predictive analysis works? The answer may open Pandora’s Box. Golden State’s point differential is currently an 11.0 while OKC is at a 6.7. That difference is 4.3, while the calculated difference in their top two True Shooting Percentages is 64.5 - 60.6 = 3.8.
But does this formula keep for the rest of the teams in the league?
No. And although you might add insult to injury by shaming my writing as well as my math, Westbrook and Durant would ferociously remind me to ignore those insults and injuries, and keep on pushing.
Editor's Note: Please welcome new writer rustybrooks! He will be bringing the stat-based analysis.