NBA Betting: Durant Can’t Return Soon Enough for Thunder
When the Oklahoma City Thunder bolstered their lineup at the NBA trade deadline, it seemed inevitable that they’d grab a playoff spot in the always-tough Western Conference. Then Kevin Durant got hurt again, and as we go to press, the Thunder have fallen back into ninth place at 35-29 (30-32-2 ATS). All of this despite Russell Westbrook putting up five triple-doubles since the All-Star break.
Despite, or because of? Maybe Westbrook’s recent tear is one of the reasons the Thunder have dropped the cash in four straight games. While his raw numbers have been very impressive, Westbrook (29.83 PER) has seen his Defensive Rating slip from 101.9 before the break to 108.1 after, and his Turnover Ratio increase from 10.5 to 12.2. With Durant not expected back for another one to two weeks, this could make the difference between Oklahoma City making or missing the playoffs.
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We’ve become familiar over the past six-plus years with Westbrook’s tendency to turn the ball over in times of heavy usage. Even now, as Westbrook is enjoying the finest season of his career, his turnovers have risen to a career-high 4.1 per game (4.5 per 36 minutes). Things got particularly crazy on Wednesday when the former UCLA Bruins standout coughed the ball up 10 times in a 120-108 loss to the LA Clippers (+6.5 away).
But it’s the decline in Defensive Rating that should really concern OKC supporters. Last year, when Durant was carrying the load while Westbrook was injured, Durant was at least slightly better than average with a plus-0.15 Defensive Real Plus-Minus. The Thunder easily made the playoffs at 59-23 SU and a profitable 43-37-2 ATS. This year, Westbrook has a minus-0.45 DRPM, and that’s taking into account the entire regular season up to this point.
We can’t pin that all on Westbrook, though. Basketball is still a team sport, and one of the reasons Westbrook’s defensive numbers are falling is because of the big trade that brought Enes Kanter (21.5 PER) to town. The Thunder desperately needed Kanter’s scoring touch down low, but he’s by far the worst defensive center in the league at minus-3.04 DRPM. Kendrick Perkins (7.4 PER), who was sent packing in the Kanter trade, has a plus-2.18 DRPM this year.
While we’re at it, we also have to take into account the other big component of the Kanter trade, the one that sent back-up point guard Reggie Jackson (minus-1.26 DRPM) to the Detroit Pistons in return for DJ Augustin (minus-2.63 DRPM). These moves, combined with the over-reliance on Westbrook’s offense, have cleared the path for the over to go 6-1 during Oklahoma City’s last seven games.
Help is on the way. Durant will be back in the lineup soon to help shoulder the load, and center Steven Adams (plus-1.02 DRPM) should see his minutes ramp up a bit, now that he’s back from that broken right hand. It might be enough to get the Thunder back into the playoffs, and maybe even beating the spread again. But the over could remain a strong play for a while yet.