Earlier this week, Russell Westbrook became the first NBA player since Oscar Robertson in 1961 to average a triple-double going into December. This incredible success comes just five months after Kevin Durant left him with the talent-void Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors. All of this has led people to recently ask the question, Is Russell Westbrook better than Kevin Durant? For years Westbrook has played in the shadow of lovable superstar Kevin Durant. Despite producing all-star stat lines year in and year out, people viewed Russell as a ball-hogging nuisance, impeding on KD’s success. No one took his talent seriously. This season Russell Westbrook is playing for vengeance.
Russell Westbrook is playing lights-out this season. But does that make him better than Kevin Durant, the four time scoring champion? The only way to figure this out is to analyze each facet of basketball (scoring, passing, rebounding, and defense) and come to a conclusion with all things considered. So here we go…
Last season, Kevin Durant averaged 28.2 points per game (PPG), a total a good bit higher than Russell Westbrook’s 23.5 points per game. This season Westbrook is averaging 30.9 compared to KD’s 27.1. Westbrook averaging more points than Durant this year could easily be attributed to Durant having to share the ball with multiple elite scorers whereas Westbrook has nobody to split stats with. Looking at their True Shooting Percentage (TS%), a shooting efficiency metric that takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws, the results are the same. During 2015-2016 KD shot a .634 TS%. This season he’s shooting a league-high .681 TS%. Westbrook’s numbers are good, but not quite as impressive with a .546 TS% last season and a .554 TS% today.
These numbers shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. KD is better at scoring than Russell Westbrook. But not by as much as people think. So far this season, Russell Westbrook is second in PPG and is first in total points scored, ahead of Durant in both categories. Back in the 2014-2015, Westbrook actually won the scoring title. So yes, KD is the better scorer, but Russ is no slouch.
Slight Advantage: Durant
Last season, Westbrook averaged 10.4 assists per game (APG), overshadowing Durant’s 5.0 APG. That trend continues this season. Westbrook averages an exceptional 11.3 APG compared to Durant’s rather pedestrian 4.7 APG. Not even these numbers show just how truly incredible Russell Westbrook is at dishing out dimes.[MVA1] [DVA2] [DVA3] The most revealing stat is Assist Percentage (AST%), or the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on the court. Last season, Russ finished with a 49.6 AST%, second to only Chris Paul’s 52.7 AST%. That’s impressive. But this season Westbrook is on another level. So far, Russell Westbrook has an absurd 58.8 AST%. That means nearly 60% of ALL baskets scored by OKC players come from a Russell Westbrook assist while he is on the court. If the season ended today, Westbrook would have the highest AST% of all time, putting him ahead of John Stockton’s 57.48% in 1991. It’s not enough to say that Russell Westbrook is better than Kevin Durant at passing. Russell Westbrook is a passing god.
Huge Advantage: Westbrook
During the 2015-2016 season, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook averaged about the same number of rebounds per game (RPG), 8.2 and 7.8, respectively. This year Durant is averaging 8.4 RPG and Westbrook is averaging 10.2. Westbrook has an edge here but, again, both numbers are impressive. The more revealing metric is the Rebound Percentage (RB%). RB% measures the percentage of available rebounds the player grabbed. Last season KD and Russ finished with the exact same rebound percentage, 12.4%. However, this season Russell Westbrook is outperforming Kevin Durant in RB% 16.3 to 13.3. Furthermore, Westbrook destroys Durant in offensive rebound percentage over the past two seasons 6.3% to 2.1%. All of Kevin Durant’s rebounds come on defense. Offensive rebounds are much more valuable since they often immediately lead to easy baskets.
When talking about defense, people usually reference two things: blocks and steals. Looking at that statline (blocks/steals), KD pulled a 1.2/1.0 last season and is pulling a 1.6/1.6 this season. That compares to Westbrook’s 2.0/0.3 last year and 1.3/0.4 this season. Using those numbers, it would be easy to conclude that Kevin Durant is the better all-around defender. Blocks and steals alone do not take into account a lot about defense. A better defensive measure is defensive win shares (DWS), which takes into account how many points the individual player allows compared to the league average—the higher number the better. Over the past two years, Russell Westbrook has a DWS of 5.0 compared to Kevin Durant’s 4.6.
Kevin Durant has more steals and blocks than Russell Westbrook. That doesn’t mean he’s a better defender. Westbrook’s higher DWS means he allows less points than Durant. Isn’t that what defense is all about? Aren’t blocks and steals only good because they prevent the opposing team from scoring? It’s close. But Russell Westbrook is the better defender.
So who’s the better player? Kevin Durant is definitely the better scorer. However, scoring isn’t enough. If it were, Carmelo Anthony and James Harden would consistently be in the conversation for best player. Russell Westbrook is the better passer, rebounder, and defender. On top of all that, Russ is a very good scorer. He currently has the most points in the NBA on the season and is averaging the second most points per game. Just two years ago, Westbrook took home the scoring title. Kevin Durant being the better scorer is not a good enough reason to give him the crown. Even looking at Box Plus/Minus (BPM), a statistic that measures how well a player performs overall compared to the league average (with the league average being 0), Westbrook blows KD out of the water. Last season Westbrook’s BPM beat Durant’s +10.0 to +7.9. This season he’s beating Durant +14.5 to +9.3. Westbrook’s +14.5 BPM beats the highest all-time single season BPM of +12.9. The stats are consistent. Over the past four years, Russ’ BPM is +10.0 while Durant’s is +8.2. Russell Westbrook consistently outperforms Kevin Durant. This might’ve not been true five years ago, but it is certainly true now. Russell Westbrook is better than Kevin Durant.
This season Russell Westbrook can make a statement. He has so little to work with in OKC. The next two best players are the talented, but young, Victor Oladipo, and aspiring pirate Steven Adams. If Oklahoma City has a successful season it will be solely because of Russell Westbrook. He is everything that team. Not only does he score over 30 points a game but assists nearly 60% of his teammates baskets while he’s on the floor. If Russell Westbrook pulls off an impressive run with the Thunder it will prove to Kevin Durant and all of his haters that he is not to be underestimated.
Still waiting for KD to take this down.
(Statistics are current as of 12/2/16 at 10 am, source Basketball-Reference.com)
***Like what you read? Subscribe to the website to get Red Seat’s posts straight to your inbox!