With all of the news coming out in recent weeks about the relationship between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant now that Durant is a member of the Golden State Warriors, it begs the question: is Westbrook a difficult point guard to play with in today's NBA?
As a ball-dominant point guard, Westbrook often plays with blinders on, which reportedly frustrated Durant during his eight years in Oklahoma City. Sure, Westbrook at times dribbled the ball a lot, pounding it into the floor, which led to stalled offensive sets. Sure, he took too many 3-pointers and played hero ball at times, and sure, he's not the most affable guy when on the court due to his fire and passion, but again, does that make him a difficult point guard to play with?
If you dive into the numbers and really understand something about Westbrook, you will see that he's always looking to get his teammates involved. When on the floor last season, Westbrook assisted on 49.1 percent(!!!) of Oklahoma City's buckets.
That number is astounding for a point guard who is "hard to play with," especially when you consider that that number was good for second in the entire NBA (again,!!!) behind Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul.
I was recently listening to a podcast with Zach Lowe and Howard Beck when I heard that number. Driving home from work in my car I almost had to pull over I was in so much shock: the good kind of shock (if there is such a thing).
Combine that with the fact that Westbrook's passing is a key component of his team's success. Only Rajon Rondo (27.1) and John Wall (24.7) created more points via assist than Westbrook (23.7) did last season.
While Westbrook's PER dropped from 29.1 in 2014-15 to 27.6, his assist numbers actually increased. Durant's PER was higher than Westbrook's this past season (28.2), but Durant took more shots per game than Westbrook while assisting on just 24 percent of baskets scored when on the floor.
I certainly understand Durant's frustration in the offense during his eight seasons here, but a lot of that had to do with scheme under Scott Brooks that continued during a good portion of Billy Donovan's first season as players worked to incorporate his new offensive scheme. However, by the time the playoffs rolled around, the Thunder offense was significantly better and looks to be heading in the right direction with Westbrook running the pick and roll as the basis for most action.
But this notion of Westbrook being a difficult point guard to play with absolutely has to die a quick death. It's absolute nonsense and it's an old, lazy narrative surrounding his style of play.
Just this past season, more than one-third (35.4 percent) of Westbrook's passes in the regular season went to Durant. That number jumped to 44.6 percent in the playoffs. And yet Durant reportedly complained that Westbrook wasn't delivering the ball to him enough. With Westbrook's 10.2 assists per game, roughly six went to either Durant or Serge Ibaka, with Durant holding the lion's share of those six assists.
Maybe — and this is a big maybe — Durant was the difficult one to play with at times, often doing very little to get himself open or work without the ball. Maybe Durant was just tired of the style of basketball that the Thunder played, and that's perfectly fine. That's his taste.
But this whole media tour of blaming Westbrook in some form or another for Durant leaving has got to stop now. He's not a difficult guy to play with; the numbers speak for themselves.