Oklahoma City Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook just completed their eighth season together as teammates and for eight straight years, the two stars have come up short in reaching their ultimate goal of winning a championship. The closest the two of them have gotten was a trip to the NBA Finals in 2012, where they were able to win Game 1 of the series against the Miami Heat, however would drop the next four games. Durant and Westbrook have both largely been considered two of the top five players players in the NBA for several years now. They hold the distinction of being one of only sixteen pairs of teammates who have had at least one season where both averaged 25+ points per game, which they did during the 2014-2015 season. These are obviously two elite players and championship or not, have established themselves as one of the greatest duos in NBA history. However, what has hindered them from being able to reach the mountaintop as teammates, being NBA champions?
- Injuries. While Durant and Westbrook have mostly been very durable stars, each have had their injury woes. In a first round series against the Houston Rockets during the 2013 NBA Playoffs, Russell Westbrook collided with Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley, causing a meniscus tear in his right knee. After the injury prognosis and initial surgical repair, Westbrook went through two additional surgeries on the same knee within the following eight months. Prior to the 2014-2015 NBA season, it was announced that Durant suffered a broken bone in his foot and was subsequently ruled out for six to eight weeks. After missing the first month of the season, Durant returned but was in and out of the lineup throughout the season before officially being shut down three weeks before the start of the playoffs. Might Durant and Westbrook have been able to lead the Thunder to the title in 2013 had Westbrook not tore his meniscus? If Durant had stayed healthy or been available during last year’s playoffs, might the Thunder, even as a low seed, have been able to pull an extreme upset all the way to the title?
- Strength of Western Conference. For nearly two decades, the Western Conference Playoffs have been an absolute doghouse. Since Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won their final championship in 1998, there has been 12 champions crowned from the Western Conference. In that time period, the Thunder are one of only three teams other than the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers (which account for 13 Finals trips) to even reach the Finals. Furthermore, the Thunder have been eliminated from the playoffs by the eventual champions in four of the past six years. In that time, only the Spurs and now the Golden State Warriors have been able to make back-to-back appearances in the Finals.
- Lack of consistent third option. During the Thunder’s deepest playoff run in 2012, the Thunder’s third option, James Harden averaged 16.3 points per game in the playoffs. Since trading Harden prior to the 2012-2013 season, Serge Ibaka has served as the Thunder’s third option on offense. However, his career high in points per game was 12.8, which he averaged during the Thunder’s 2013 playoff run, which Westbrook missed the majority of. This year’s playoff run saw Ibaka average just 12.0 PPG. As great and talented as Durant and Westbrook are, they cannot and should not be tasked to do everything on their own. The team’s inability to find a consistent third option over the years hasn’t helped their title hopes.
With Kevin Durant’s free agency looming, it is quite possible that this past Memorial Day holiday was the final time we’ll see him and Westbrook together as teammates for the Thunder. While free agency hasn’t yet begun, it is too early to say whether that’s the case or not. However, if that Game 7 was indeed their final game together, the two have definitely made their mark together as one of the greatest duos the league has ever seen. It’s obvious that winning a championship together would add more validation to the claim, but it’s not often we see such an explosive, relentless, and intense athlete paired with a pure scorer with an incredibly long wingspan and great handles that can literally shoot from anywhere inside of 30 feet. Durant and Westbrook are great both individually and together, and whether their tandem ends this summer or continues for a few more years, their legacy as a duo will remain impressive with or without a championship ring.
Spark Sports NBA Analyst