Tonight’s matchup between Oklahoma City and Denver should be another one of those I-CAN’T-WAIT-TO-SEE-THESE-TEAMS-IN-THE-PLAYOFFS kind of games we regularly see out West. Denver’s offense is back to lighting it up, scoring over 110 points in their last three games, with 137 and 129 coming against the Lakers and Celtics, respectively.
The most recent stretch for the Thunder has been bitter-sweet, however. The bitter is from going 4-3 since Christmas, when Westbrook last played. There are losses at Utah and Brooklyn but they took care of a back-to-back between Minnesota and Boston.
The sweet comes from Kevin Durant‘s explosion while Russell Westbrook works his way back to the court. Obviously winning is more important, but check out Durant’s stat lines before (28 games) and after (seven) Westbrook last played:
Durant’s also been both as efficient with his scoring and productive in other areas of the game since Christmas, at least offensively:
Arguably most impressive is Durant taking on a higher usage rate while turning it over only half the frequency as before. Some of that is attributed to taking more shots, but Durant’s also assisting a higher percentage of the time.
As far as being fed the ball, Durant’s field goals have been assisted only 32.1 percent of the time after Christmas compared to 59.0 before. The main feeders have been Jackson and Kendrick Perkins (!!!), according to NBA.com, each recording seven assists to Durant. In the 28 games before, they combined for 31 assists while Westbrook racked up 78.
Here’s the before and after of Durant’s shot chart and shot distribution:
Defensively, the Thunder’s allowed five more points per 100 possessions with Durant on the floor but they’re nonetheless elite in either situation. What’s odd about that, though, is the starting lineup being so stingy on that end with Reggie Jackson compared to Westbrook. With Jackson, the Thunder’s allowed 16 less points per 100 possessions than with Westbrook and 25 points better overall, per NBA.com. That net rating with Jackson starting will be put to the test over the next 12 days as Oklahoma City plays the likes of Houston, Golden State, Portland, and San Antonio during that time (and playoff-contending Denver tonight). The other 12 games before the all-star break feature eight on the road.
By then, Westbrook should be nearing a return to the court. It’d be interesting to see him in the situation Durant’s currently in, and maybe sometime in early April that’ll happen if the league’s leading scorer needs a few games off. For now, though, we’ll have to settle for Durant’s remarkable production. Over his career, he’s averaged 30 points per game against Denver.
Let’s see if that gets a swift uptick tonight.