Three years ago, there was no doubt that the leader of the ascendant Oklahoma City Thunder was Kevin Durant. He was the main attraction, the superstar, a freak-athlete who was scoring at an almost unconscious rate. He was backed by a bevy of young talent - Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, James Harden - but he was the lead guy, the main dude, the top whatever. Then something weird happened.
When James Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets on the eve of the 2012 season, the Thunder shipped off a talented player they could never afford to re-sign and also gave the bearded dynamo an opportunity to become a superstar in his own right. Once a bench player, Harden became a league-leading scorer right alongside Durant. He's now the centerpiece of a talented Houston team that could easily win a championship before Oklahoma City. He still doesn't play defense.
But even without Harden, Durant and the Thunder flourished. Point Guard Russell Westbrook, whose outstanding play had relegated Harden to the bench, was also becoming a perennial all-star, an elite defender who could score at will. To Durant’s Batman, he was a perfect Robin. But when Batman went down for long stretches this season with injuries, Robin didn’t just pick up the cowl – he took it and dunked on the Joker, crossed over Scarecrow and took Catwoman out clubbing.
Russell Westbrook’s streak of four straight triple doubles (a feat that has only been matched by Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson) has only highlighted what has become abundantly clear this season – Westbrook is just as valuable a player as Durant. Instead of a Batman-Robin situation, Oklahoma City now has two Batman’s. After suffering a fracture in his face on Friday, Westbrook is even wearing a cool-looking mask to protect his injury. He actually now looks like a superhero.
Case in point, watch Westbrook absolutely soar past a couple of helpless defenders last night:
He finished the game with 49 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists. How’s that for a stat line?
With the rise of Westbrook and Harden, Durant’s own talents haven’t diminished; they’ve just been put in a larger context of outstanding players. Durant, injured for the better part of this season, might not be the Batman we all thought he was – perhaps he’s just one superhero among many. It’s mind-boggling to think that Harden, Durant, and Westbrook once all shared the same uniform. With Westbrook and Durant now capable of signing colossal contracts, one wonders how long they’ll stay together past next season. Can there really be a team with two main attractions, or will the laws of free agency physics compel these huge stars to separate?
Tune in over the next few months to find out! Same bat-time, same bat-League Pass.
Photos by Associated Press