Has Russell Westbrook surpassed Kevin Durant?

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Can Westbrook Catch Harden in MVP Race?


On Saturday, March 21, the Oklahoma City Thunder announced that Kevin Durant would be likely shut down for the remainder of the 2014-15 season. Durant had undergone surgery in his right foot due to soreness and discomfort, and the team removed him from "basketball activities", and they set no timetable for his return.

The soreness was likely due to a stress fracture suffered at the beginning of the season, and the team was concerned with exacerbating the injury, which could shorten Durant's career down the line just like it has with many other players in the past.

The previous night, the Thunder took on the Eastern Conference leading Atlanta Hawks in Oklahoma. Russell Westbrook registered his ninth triple-double of the season (and his seventh sine the All-Star break); he recorded 36 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists and converted all 17 of his free throws. With Durant watching from the sidelines, the Thunder won 123-115, and improved to 39-30 on the season.

Following Kevin Durant's MVP campaign last season, it would not have been an absurd notion to consider the small forward on his way to becoming the greatest scorer in NBA history. He was considered by many the second best player in the NBA behindLeBron James, and had already eclipsed LeBron as the league's most deadly scoring threat from all over the court.

Now, he might not even be the best player on his team.

Whereas Durant commands the ultimate attention of the defense when he is on the court, Westbrook is a force that completely alters the game by pushing the tempo, distributing the ball and sparking the defense with his intensity.

Plus Westbrook is just a peach to watch. It seems to be a semi-nightly occurrence that he either flies coast-to-coast on a slam dunk that alters the Earth's rotation (this is why it was snowing in the Midwest on Monday) ...




... or delivers a clutch layup while moving near the speed of sound.




He approaches the game with a chip on his shoulder the size of a door wedge.




In his Trade Value Rankings, Grantland's Bill Simmons ranked Kevin Durant sixth and ranked Russell Westbrook fifth. He had this much to say about Westbrook:

... the right pop-culture comparison for Westbrook (at least lately) is Scarlett Johansson in Lucy. Remember when her brain usage started expanding and she started making crazy stuff happen? Hasn't that been Westbrook these past few weeks? He's using 7 percent of his brain and the number is climbing. In Round 1, he's shedding his skin and becoming an actual robot.

Perhaps right now, with Durant's uncertain future both as he recovers from injury and as he prepares to potentially leave the Thunder for another squad, the solid Westbrook is the more valuable asset. Whether or not he is actually the better player depends on how the term "better player" is measured.

Is Westbrook a more important element of the Thunder than Durant?

Both players are an offense onto themselves, and Scott Brooks really doesn't have any sort of playbook outside of letting one of their two stars play off isolation. Without Durant (or the injured Serge Ibaka) this season, the Thunder have been simply reliant on allowing Westbrook to run wild in order to generate offense. All of the offensive attention gets drawn to Westbrook, and the Thunder don't have enough two-way players to add as offensive threats that can hold up as a defense.

As such, Oklahoma City's offense is highly limited without Durant in it. They either give up offense or defense, and they have chosen the former. Even so, within the last stretch since the All Star Break the team has gone from a bubble team to a solidified playoff contender. Westbrook is the primary reason; it doesn't matter that he is being double-teamed and drawing all the attention without any support from teammates (Enes Kanter's recent stretch aside).

That being said, while the team is dangerous now, without Durant the Thunder aren't a legitimate contender to win a championship. The offense totally relies on Durant's presence to maintain a championship level, and the same can't be said for Westbrook. Therefore, by this metric, Westbrook is still behind Durant.

Who do opposing teams fear more?

The fact that Durant can score at any time in the game, anywhere on the court in any way possible no matter what kind of defense you put on him must at least fill opponents with a sort of morbid dread. At the same time, Westbrook is a harrowing force, an active volcano who can erupt at any point and is erupting at a higher rate than normal.

NBA players know that whenever they go up against Westbrook, they will be outworked. In every phase of the game, Westbrook will be on the minds of everyone on the court, creeping up to steal the ball, lurking by the glass to get a rebound, barreling towards the basket to score and creating offense with his assists. Every offensive possession for Westbrook is a mystery to everyone except for Westbrook himself. He's a mystery box Dum-Dum, and those are absolutely frightening. Westbrook takes this one.

The question then becomes: if given one opportunity to win a game, would the Thunder rather have Durant or Westbrook?

At this stage, it's a cute idea to think of any star player as being "unafraid" of the moment if given the chance to win a game. But Russell Westbrook's confidence is so inflated that in any game situation, he may be able to simply will his way into the basket. Westbrook has the mentality that will commit him entirely to the goal of winning, and he will zero in on a goal like an Amazon drone.

Durant does not raise his game in clutch situations. He doesn't need to raise it. It's already raised. When healthy (which is every year but now), Kevin Durant will surpass every player not only in the volume of his scoring, but also in the nature of his scoring. When an end-game situation has so many variables, a player with a utility knife repertoire of offensive moves is almost necessary.

Kevin Durant can create a mismatch with any defensive alignment, and he produces with such consistency that he erases any uneasiness in Thunder fans. Westbrook is the embodiment of uneasiness. This one goes to Durant all the way.

It's dependent on how it is measured, but overall, Westbrook has not yet surpassed Durant. He has closed the gap significantly this season, but for the time being this is still Kevin Durant's team.

It is difficult to say how Durant will look after he returns from his foot injury, and it depends on how eager the Thunder are to have him return to see how well he recovers.

But for the time being, the king stays the king.

More on AOL
26 PHOTOS
Sports potw 3/23 - no march madness
See Gallery
Has Russell Westbrook surpassed Kevin Durant?
JUPITER, FL - MARCH 22: Dee Gordon #9 of the Miami Marlins watches a bunted ball during the first inning of the game against the Minnesota Twins at Roger Dean Stadium on March 22, 2015 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 18: Dominic Moore #28 of the New York Rangers falls into the net after getting hit from behind by Kimmo Timonen #44 of the Chicago Blackhawks at Madison Square Garden on March 18, 2015 in New York City. The puck crossed the line but was ruled no goal because a whistle had blown. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)
Michel Bastos of Brazil's Sao Paulo FC, right, fights for the ball with Franco Gabriel Mussis of Argentina's San Lorenzo during a Copa Libertadores soccer match in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Wednesday, March 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
Kevin Harvick gets drenched by his team after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Sprint Cup Series auto race in Fontana, Calif., Saturday, March 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
A jogger runs during the sunset after a warm spring day on March 16, 2015, in the Olympic park in Munich, southern Germany. Meteorologists forecast temperatures around 15 degrees and further sun in the region. AFP PHOTO/CHRISTOF STACHE (Photo credit should read CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
A lone Italian flag is waved amongst a sea of Juventus' flags during the Round of 16, second-leg UEFA Champions League football match Borussia Dortmund vs Juventus in Dortmund, western Germany on March 18, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PATRIK STOLLARZ (Photo credit should read PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Minnesota players celebrate winning the NCAA Frozen Four championship college hockey game against Harvard, Sunday, March 22, 2015, in Minneapolis. Minnesota won 4-1. (AP Photo/Hannah Foslien)
New York Yankees center fielder Jose Pirela crashes into the wall as he chases a ball hit for an inside-the-park home run hit by New York Mets' Juan Lagares in the first inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game Sunday, March 22, 2015, in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Pirela was taken from the field on a golf cart and left the stadium in an ambulance. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - MARCH 21: Pandelela Rinong of Malaysia dives during the semi final of the Women's 10m Platform on day two of the 2015 FINA/NVA Diving World Series at the Hamdan Sports Complex on March 21, 2015 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
Anna Fenninger, of Austria, speeds down the course on her way to win an alpine ski, women's World Cup giant slalom, at the World Cup finals in Meribel, France, Sunday, March 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Giovanni Auletta)
San Francisco Giants center fielder Gary Brown's bat rests near the dugout during the national anthem before a spring training baseball exhibition game against the Los Angeles Angels in Tempe, Ariz., on Saturday, March 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Georgia's Brandie Jay performs on the uneven bars during the NCAA college SEC gymnastics championship, Saturday, March 21, 2015, in Duluth, Ga. (AP Photo/David Tulis)
Genoa's Zakarya Bergdich, right, reaches for the ball ahead of Juventus' Roberto Pereyra during a Serie A soccer match at the Juventus stadium, in Turin, Italy, Sunday, March 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Alessandro Di Marco, Ansa)
Phoenix Suns' Eric Bledsoe passes around New Orleans Pelicans' Norris Cole, right, as he falls out of bounds during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, March 19, 2015, in Phoenix. The Suns won 74-72. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Washington Nationals' Tony Gwynn (7) slides head first into third base with a triple in the ninth inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Detroit Tigers Thursday, March 19, 2015, in Viera, Fla. The game ended in a scoreless tie. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
GELSENKIRCHEN, GERMANY - MARCH 21: Omer Toprak of Bayer 04 Leverkusen tangles with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar of FC Schalke 04 during the Bundesliga match between FC Schalke 04 and Bayer 04 Leverkusen at Veltins Arena on March 21, 2015 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. (Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Denver Nuggets' Kenneth Faried (35) grabs a rebound against Houston Rockets' Donatas Motiejunas (20) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, March 19, 2015, in Houston. The Rockets won 118-108. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Ajax's goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen saves during a Europa League, round of 16 second leg soccer match between Ajax and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk at ArenA stadium in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Thursday, March 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Utah Jazz's Trey Burke, center, shoots under pressure by Los Angeles Lakers' Ed Davis during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, March 19, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 20: Rasmus Ristolainen #55 of the Buffalo Sabres checks Jacob Josefson #16 of the New Jersey Devils at First Niagara Center on March 20, 2015 in Buffalo, New York. New Jersey defeated Buffalo 3-1. (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 22: Marcelo Vieira of Real Madrid jumps over Xavi Hernandez of FC Barcelona during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou on March 22, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Angel Martinez/Real Madrid via Getty Images)
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 22: Phil Davis and Shane Mumford of the Giants and Sam Naismith of the Swans contest a mark during the NAB Challenge AFL match between the Greater Western Sydney Giants and the Sydney Swans at Star Track Oval on March 22, 2015 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 20: Michelle Wie hits a tee shot on the 10th hole during the second round of the LPGA Founders Cup at Wildfire Golf Club on March 20, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
ROME, ITALY - MARCH 21: Luke Charteris of Wales in action during the RBS Six Nations match between Italy and Wales at Stadio Olimpico on March 21, 2015 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 20: Taj Gibson #22 of the Chicago Bulls yells as he dunks over Patrick Patterson #54 of the Toronto Raptors in his first game back from injury at the United Center on March 20, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION



Related links:
Interview: Giants' Buster Posey wants to get better
Charles Barkley was not wearing pants (video)

For more sports coverage, please visit FanSided.com.
Read Full Story

People are Reading