Season retrospective: So was Durant a team killer?

Oklahoma City played its best stretch with its star player sidelined with a bum ankle. Therefore, media folks had to bring up the inevitable “Is the Thunder better off without Durant?” questions and really, people are still talking about it. Reader J.G. emailed in and put all of that to bed.

“You’re joking, right?” is what my first response would be to people who ask this question but after his injury and the Thunder’s team success in his absence, a lot of individuals posed this question and at first glance, it may have not seemed all that ridiculous. However on second glance, this notion is clearly based off of the misconception that the 5 of 6 game stretch that the Thunder went on while Durant (and Green for a bit) was hurt was their best of the season statistically.

Well it turns out that stretch was not the Thunder’s best stretch of wins. Not even close. And here’s why:

The stretch without Durant included wins against Memphis (5th worst record), Washington (2nd worst record), Sacramento (1st worst record) and two sixth seeded playoff teams, Dallas and Philadelphia. When you tack on the fact that the Thunder were actually favored in two of those games that they were supposed to have won, then you can really see why that stretch meant very little in terms of an “impressive streak.”

The Thunder’s victories came against teams with a 20.7% Winning Percentage, a 23.2% Winning Percentage, a 29.3% Winning Percentage, a 50% Winning Percentage and a 61% Winning Percentage. So their opponent’s average Winning Percentage during the stretch without Durant (and Green for a time) was 36.8%, hardly something to celebrate and even less indicative of one player’s overall impact, destructive or constructive.

The best stretch the Thunder ACTUALLY had in terms of “quality of opponent” and “wins produced” was when they went 5 of 7 in January, beating Utah, Detroit, Golden State, New Jersey and Memphis. The Thunder were not favorites in ANY of these games and went up against much harder competition.

Their victories came against teams with a 58.5% Winning percentage, a 47.6% Winning Percentage, a 41.5% Winning percentage, a 35.4% Winning Percentage and a 29.3% Winning Percentage. Opponent’s average Winning Percentage during that stretch: 42.5%, a full 6.3% better competition that produced an equal amount of wins and also included two playoff teams.

Don’t think 6.3% is that big of a jump in competition? Well, here’s a little example about the change in competition between teams that are only 6.3% points apart in last year’s standings: Who would you rather play, Detroit or Miami? Dallas or Denver? Portland or Orlando?

But those are all playoff teams, how about non-playoff teams? Would you rather play Golden State or Milwaukee/New Jersey? Or better yet, look at it this way, guess how many percentage points separated teams that made the playoffs in Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia from teams that did not, Milwaukee/New Jersey, Charlotte and Indiana respectively? You guessed it, about 6.3% (Detroit’s 47.6% vs Milwaukee/New Jersey’s 41.5%, Charlotte’s 42.7% vs Chicago’s 50%, Indiana’s 43.9% vs Philadelphia’s 50%).

Now an argument could try to be made about the Thunder having won two more road games in that 5 of 6 stretch, but the road games were against the worst teams of the 5, so I’m sorry, but Sacramento and Memphis’s empty arena hardly qualifies as quality wins in a hostile environment.

But here’s the best part, in the Thunder’s stretch of wins without Durant (and Green for a spell), each of the starting five contributed significantly in those games (both the replacements and the normal starters) and other reserve players picked up the slack considerably as well.

For example, Westbrook led the team in assists in each game, averaging 6.8 assists an outing. Collison, Sefolosha, Krstic and Westbrook (his triple double game) all pulled down double digit rebounds in at least one of those 5 wins, each one pulling down near their year and even near their career best number of rebounds. Krstic, Westbrook and Jeff Green all led the team in scoring in those 5 wins, with Krstic and Green posting some of their best point totals of the year (Green’s 27 and Krstic’s 26).

So what does that tell you? That everyone stepped up their games significantly.

But back to that best part about the question of if the Thunder is better off without Durant. You remember that stretch where they won 5 of 7 against much tougher competition? Well here is all Durant did in those games:

Utah – 21 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 block;
Detroit – 32 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals;
Golden State – 27 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals;
New Jersey – 18 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists;
Memphis – 35 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, 4 blocks.

And I won’t even talk about the 107-104 loss to the Clippers where Durant posted 46 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 1 block where Kyle Weaver led the team in assists at 5.

So, based off the information, it seems pretty obvious that Durant contributes the most in wins against better competition than any other Thunder player. In fact, givin the stats, it’s almost ludicrous to even suggest that Durant is a team killer. When it’s clear he’s more of a team reviver.

Now that being said, the question remains, are the other players simply not stepping up with him in the lineup which forces him to be so involved…or is he involved too much to the point where the other players are unable to contribute/step up? I have an opinion (something along the lines of “Oh well, KD’s got this so we can hang back” versus “We don’t have KD, I better be on my game”), but I’ll leave you to come to your own conclusion given the information. — J.G. Marking