Skip Bayless was at it again this morning.
The renowned talking head on ESPN2′s First Take continued his personal campaign against all things Russell Westbrook, ignoring last night’s gritty win by the tough-minded Thunder and instead focusing more on how the team’s All-Star point guard took one more shot than Kevin Durant.
Debating Stephen A. Smith (not pictured above), Bayless unleashed a tirade while attacking Westbrook. I’ve transcribed his entire opening statement, but I’ve also included the audio so you can hear just how venomous Bayless was about Westbrook.
It happened again, right on schedule for you to sit across from me today. I’m going to say it again. I’m going to be very clear about this. My Oklahoma City Thunder are now blessed to have the man, I think, who has turned into the best player in the NBA, Kevin Durant, who is not blessed to be partnered with a “point guard” who routinely brings up the ball and then routinely chooses to shoot more shots than the superstar standing over on the wing saying “Do I get to play today? Do I get this ball this time? Maybe I will, and if I do I better force a shot because I know I’m not going to get the ball back.’ I’m going to say it again, this is a postseason recipe for disaster. I love the Thunder because it’s my hometown team. But I’m not going to sit idly by like some blindly-loyal fan and say nothing about something that is getting to be a bigger and bigger issue on a nightly basis. He did it again last night. ‘Well they both scored 31. What a duo.’ They both had four assists. The point guard had four assists. That is asi-fifteen.”
Rather than roll our eyes at Bayless, or revert to calling him everything but a child of God, how about we dig deeper and examine whether there is any truth to his now well-publicized opinion.
Research shows that Westbrook has attempted more shots than Durant in 12 games this season. In those 12 contests, Westbrook has shot a total of 44 more times than Durant, giving him 3.6 more shots on average than the reigning two-time scoring champ in the games in question. Westbrook’s largest shot differential with Durant was 10, when Westbrook attempted 20 shots to KD’s 10 at Utah on Feb. 20.
In the other 11 games, Westbrook attempted one more shot three times, two more shots once, three more shots three times, four more shots twice and five and seven more shots once each.
In other words, out of 12 games in which Westbrook has out-shot Durant, only three times has Westbrook finished with more than four more attempts than Durant.
But why stop there? In fact, you can’t.
It’s important to note that in those 12 games, Durant has attempted 18 more foul shots than Westbrook, 90 to 72. In Westbrook’s second largest shot attempt disparity over Durant, seven on Feb. 9 against Sacramento, KD attempted nine free throws to Westbrook’s three. Additionally, in the third largest margin, five against Dallas on Feb. 1, Durant struggled with an off night from the field but shot two more foul shots than Westbrook. Those are critical numbers in accounting for what the box scores show under FGA.
The Thunder is 9-3 in games that Westbrook attempts more shots than Durant. The losses came at Washington, at the Los Angeles Clippers and at Sacramento. The Thunder also is 1-0 when Westbrook ties Durant in field goal attempts.
Since we’ve come this far, what do you say we not rely solely on won-loss record or a few entry-level stats to serve as the basis for getting to the bottom of this story?
Of those 12 games, I covered eight. Our man John Rohde is the only media member, local or national, who can lay claim to being at more. He’s witnessed 10 of them. So as one of only two media members who actually attended more than 50 percent of those games, as well as closely analyzing each one, allow me to assess each one in a brief breakdown.
PHOENIX, DEC. 31
WESTBROOK: 18 points, 8-for-14 shooting, 2 FTA
DURANT: 12 points, 4-for-11 shooting, 2 FTA
RESULT: Thunder, 107-97
SUMMARY: This was a blowout. It was one of two wire-to-wire wins for OKC this season. The Thunder led by as many as 24 points and didn’t have a single struggle against the Suns. Neither Durant nor Westbrook, or any other starter for that matter, needed to play a single second in the fourth quarter. KD and Westbrook played just 26 and 25 minutes, respectively. Nothing to see here.
SAN ANTONIO, JAN. 8
WESTBROOK: 13 points, 5-for-13 shooting, 2 FTA
DURANT: 21 points, 5-for-9 shooting, 10 FTA
RESULT: Thunder, 108-96
SUMMARY: Another blowout. The Thunder led by as many as 25 points and, again, no Thunder starter needed to play the fourth quarter. Durant and Westbrook played only 29 and 25 minutes, respectively. As for the shot attempts, surprise, surprise, Durant is more efficient than Westbrook. What else is new? Moving on.
NEW ORLEANS, JAN. 11
WESTBROOK: 22 points, 9-for-20 shooting, 6 FTA
DURANT: 29 points, 11-for-17 shooting, 6 FTA
RESULT: Thunder, 95-85
SUMMARY: Westbrook had seven assists in this one. And guess what? He had just two turnovers. This was one of his better games from a decision-making stand point. He was getting his teammates involved while also providing the offensive aggressiveness his team needs. You can’t complain about three more shot attempts in this one.
WASHINGTON, JAN. 18
WESTBROOK: 36 points, 14-for-26 shooting, 9 FTA
DURANT: 33 points, 11-for-24 shooting, 9 FTA
RESULT: Wizards, 105-102
SUMMARY: Ah, a loss. But don’t forget what happened in D.C. Westbrook carried the team in the first half and throughout a stretch in the third quarter. Without Westbrook being aggressive as a scorer, the Wizards would have blown out the Thunder. And while Westbrook was doing all the right things offensively, Durant was turning it over at an alarming rate before finishing with seven. Westbrook, meanwhile, had seven assists and just three turnovers. The Thunder needed Westbrook to take two more shots than Durant this time. Can’t pin this loss on Russ.
DETROIT, JAN. 23
WESTBROOK: 24 points, 11-for-17 shooting, 2 FTA
DURANT: 20 points, 9-for-13 shooting, 3 FTA
RESULT: Thunder, 99-79
SUMMARY: Already, we have a theme emerging. That’s now three blowouts in the first five games. Yet again, Westbrook and Durant did not play a single second in the final period. The Thunder led by as many as 32. But, if you remember, Westbrook absolutely abused Pistons rookie Brandon Knight. I mean, he just had his way with him, especially on the low block. Westbrook also finished with six assists against only two turnovers. Is Westbrook supposed to not take advantage of a clear mismatch just to make sure Durant gets more shots? Next.
NEW ORLEANS, JAN. 25
WESTBROOK: 14 points, 4-for-14 shooting, 9 FTA
DURANT: 25 points, 9-for-13 shooting, 7 FTA
RESULT: Thunder, 101-91
SUMMARY: Westbrook was just awful through three quarters of this one. He missed nine of 10 shots and did very little to help his team in those first 36 minutes. There were some bad decisions, as he inexplicably held onto the ball and chose to shoot rather than pass on several occasions despite his slump. This was a game where you could not have complained if he was benched for the entire fourth. But, as has been the case, Westbrook was brought back early in the final period. Good thing, too, because he went 3-for-4 in the fourth quarter and hit two huge shots immediately upon checking back in. At worse, this one is a push. But considering Westbrook attempted only one more shot than Durant and really came through in the fourth, we’re expunging this one from his record.
L.A. CLIPPERS, JAN. 30
WESTBROOK: 31 points, 13-for-26 shooting, 6 FTA
DURANT: 36 points, 14-for-23 shooting, 7 FTA
RESULT: Clippers, 112-100
SUMMARY: This was easily, EASILY, the worst game of all the “Westbrook-took-more-shots-than-Durant” nights. This is one of the games I didn’t cover. But I remember sitting there watching as Chris Paul put on a clinic (26 points on 12 of 16 shooting with 14 assists and just two turnovers) and wondering what on earth Scott Brooks and Mo Cheeks, two former NBA point guards, must be thinking watching the difference in how the two star point guards were orchestrating and facilitating. Westbrook had just four assists and turned it over six times, while trying to do too much throughout the night. What made it worse was that Durant had it going. He hit four of five from 3-point range but, at times, couldn’t even get a touch.
DALLAS, FEB. 1
WESTBROOK: 33 points, 11-for-24 shooting, 10 FTA
DURANT: 23 points, 7-for-19 shooting, 12 FTA
RESULT: Thunder, 95-86
SUMMARY: Question. Who’s going to score when KD’s off? OK, who’s going to score when Durant and James Harden are struggling? Perk? Ibaka? Collison? Of course not. So while Durant was 5-for-14 through three quarters, Westbrook did what he was supposed to do. He took over. And when KD went 2-of-5 in the fourth quarter, Westbrook took over some more, scoring 12 points on 4-for-9 shooting to save this win. Westbrook might have had only four assists against six turnovers. But with KD and Harden combining to go 10 of 30, the Thunder would have been helpless without Westbrook.
SACRAMENTO, FEB. 9
WESTBROOK: 33 points, 15-for-26 shooting, 3 FTA
DURANT: 27 points, 9-for-19 shooting, 9 FTA
RESULT: Kings, 106-101
SUMMARY: The third and final loss in these games. And the second largest shot differential between Westbrook and Durant this season when Westbrook shoots more. Turnovers, however, were more of Westbrook’s issue than his number of shot attempts. Throw out the giveaways and Westbrook played fantastic against the Kings. But those turnovers. Westbrook had seven on the night, his final two being extremely costly as they came in the final 50 seconds. As for the shot disparity, pay attention to the free throw attempts. Durant had his opportunities.
UTAH, FEB. 10
WESTBROOK: 28 points, 10-for-20 shooting, 8 FTA
DURANT: 19 points, 6-for-10 shooting, 6 FTA
RESULT: Thunder, 101-87
SUMMARY: This was vintage hero mode. Durant barely could get the ball in this one. Westbrook was forcing the issue and taking it upon himself to score. On numerous occasions, he called his own number and appeared to never even consider looking for a teammate. Westbrook finished with three assists and four turnovers. I didn’t like his performance in this game one bit. But you know what? The Thunder won by 14.
DENVER, FEB. 19
WESTBROOK: 40 points, 16-for-29 shooting, 5 FTA
DURANT: 51 points, 19-for-28 shooting, 10 FTA
RESULT: Thunder, 124-118 in overtime
SUMMARY: This was Westbrook’s best game of the season. Maybe it was just me, but I didn’t even notice Westbrook took 29 shots. And it hardly felt, to me anyway, like he had 40. That, in my eyes, is a good thing. It’s next level. When Westbrook can consistently dominate a game without it appearing to be that way, he’s going to be the best point guard in the league. That’s what he did in this one. He finished with nine assists and just two turnovers. And when KD appeared gassed in overtime, Westbrook took over in the extra session, hitting three of four shots to put the nail in the Nuggets’ coffin. Said Durant: “A lot of people might talk about me getting 50, but Russell Westbrook carried us in overtime.”
NEW ORLEANS, FEB. 20
WESTBROOK: 31 points, 10-for-20 shooting, 10 FTA
DURANT: 31 points, 10-for-19 shooting, 9 FTA
RESULT: Thunder, 101-93
SUMMARY: Another theme. Westbrook shot more than Durant in all three meetings with the Hornets this season. What up with that? At any rate, Westbrook was under control throughout. He made a few questionable passes early and really late that resulted in an ugly four-assists, five-turnover line. But even that didn’t overshadow how good he was in this one. Westbrook was getting inside the paint at will and working his way to the free throw line extended area, where his pull-up jumper was money all night. He also had his 3-point shot falling, hitting two of three. I’d take this game from Westbrook for the next 34 games.
Based on this analysis, that’s two times in the Thunder’s first 32 games that this “problem” has reared its ugly head. Only the Clippers game and the Jazz game were inexplicable and inexcusable performances.
And if that’s the worst drawback to this dynamic duo, I’d say that’s a ratio everyone would gladly live with.
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