Is Oklahoma City Thunder Missing Kevin Durant?
It is no surprise that the Oklahoma City Thunder are struggling without Kevin Durant: on the season, the Thunder are 15-17, but are 8-15 without the star athlete. In fact, in an ESPN statistic done before December 23, Oklahoma had a PPG differential of -2.2, 93 PPG and a field goal percentage of 42.6 when both Russell Westbrook and Durant were not on the court together: this is, of course, in comparison to a +8.6 differential, 106.2 PPG and 47.3 field goal percentage when both are healthy.
But are the Thunder really this average or are they just the product of a strong Western Conference. And furthermore, could this lack of success be blamed on Westbrook? As for the latter question, it is hard to lay the blame on Westbrook when he is averaging 28 PPG, 7.3 APG, 2.3 steals in 31.8 minutes. As ESPN writer Royce Young pointed out “Without Durant, though, Westbrook sees it as his place to go solo. That’s not a product of inherent selfishness, it’s simple mathematics. The Thunder rely on two guys in crunch time. Two minus one equals one. There’s a unspoken lack of trust, with the ball finding a way to stick in select hands.”
Yet, Oklahoma City has seemed to improve their play despite missing Durant: with them going 4-3 in this latest stretch. In fact post-December 23, the Thunder are 2-1 and have 104 PPG, +26 PPG differential and have been shooting 47.6% — even shooting 50% in the 112-107 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
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At the same time, being in the Western Conference means that their schedule is far from easy — the Western Conference’s top eight have a combined winning percentage of .695, while the Eastern has an abysmal .614 with three teams being below .500. And the Thunder have a tough month ahead of them with match-ups against the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors — who they play twice in January — and even play against Eastern powerhouses like the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Washington Wizards.
Basically, Durant needs to come back soon if they have any hope to make the playoffs. At the same time, it is important not to undermine what the Thunder have done in a Durant-less offense. As the above numbers show, their play has certainly improved without the superstar; and their defense has remained solid, with them still being number one in points allowed, 96.1. However, Durant and Westbrook together is that offense. In order for the Thunder to salvage the 2014-2015 season, they need both players to stay healthy or do some severe shifting before the February 19 trade deadline.
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