I live in Los Angeles. And as an obscure pretend basketball aficionado, every time I go record shopping, I get subjected to large, random dollops of Lakers Exceptionalism.
Lately, the delusional Laker talk has centered on Kevin Durant. It's like listening to a drifter at the Arco in Barstow talk about Area 51.
The latest Exceptionalist conspiracy theory goes as follows:
1. The Lakers are getting Ben Simmons. It's not even up for discussion.
2. Then, both Durant and ultimately Russell Westbrook are coming to El Segundo. It's all been arranged by the Illuminati.
3. After we get Simmons and Durant -- and start waiting the required year for Westbrook, unless they want to get some value back and trade him to us this summer for Nick Young and Roy Hibbert -- all the veterans in the league over 30 years old will trip over themselves in the stampede to play for the Lakers for the veteran's minimum. Al Horford's apparently already thinking about it.
The volume of Durant-to-A New Team speculation is prompting a lot of comparisons and what-ifs.
What would the Warriors look like with Durant? What if Durant went to an Eastern Conference team that provided an easier path to the Finals?
Let's get even bolder in our what-ifs. Would a team rather have Durant or wait a year for Westbrook? As a proud fantasy owner, whom would you rather employ?
(Again, this is all wasted speculation because everyone's coming to El Segundo.)
In Fantasyland, we've been having this argument for a while. Since Durant's foot problems wedged him within the same "injury prone" narrative that's dogged Westbrook the past couple of seasons.
Whom would you draft first? Whom would you rather build your imaginary team around?
First off? Either way, you win. Both players are transcendent statistical forces that superpower imaginary hoops franchises in unique, dynamic ways.
For the season, on average, Westbrook and Durant are ranked No. 3 and No. 4 on the Player Rater. Westbrook is at 16.89 points. Durant is at 16.35 points.
(By the way, both players have overcome injury issues but have retained relative durability as they push through their years of peak production. Bad wheel versus bum knee. They're both rolling at present. Let's call their collective injury history a wash.)
Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that both players remain in Oklahoma City next season. For next season, it's KD, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and various sundry numerical flotsam.
Let's assume 75 games or so of their current averages:
Durant: 27.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.5 3-pointers, 1.2 blocks, 0.9 steals, .507 FG%, .893 FT%, 3.2 TO.
Westbrook: 24.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 10.2 assists, 1.2 3-pointers, 0.3 blocks, 2.3 steals, .460 FG%, .823 FT%, 4.1 TO.
(Note: Both players turn the ball over a fair amount, but Westbrook is a point guard with a sky-high 28.3 usage rate and a solid AST/TO rate of 2.45. Durant is a forward with an astronomic 29.1 usage rate, and he gets you the same number of assists as a decent point guard. So let's also call their turnover issues a wash.)
When it comes to choices such as this, it boils down to team-building philosophy. For me, it boils down to options. Which stat line gives me the most ability to navigate later rounds? I'm not going to get a lot of the players I want. I need to adapt.
Which first-rounder gives me greater draft adaptability?
Let's start with positional scarcity. Which position is less democratic in terms of how value is distributed?
If I draft Durant, do I stand a good chance of landing an impact point guard in Round 2 and beyond? If I draft Westbrook, will I have premium options at forward later on?
On the surface, position-scarcity-wise, it's no contest. Point guard remains an inordinately top-heavy position in terms of distribution of fantasy value. If you throw Durant into the forward pool -- using both small and power forwards -- you're looking at a ton of aggregate value at that position.
But since Durant qualifies at two positions, the argument is more nuanced.
This season, small forward contains more scarcity than point guard. On the other hand, with a host of PF/Cs enjoying big campaigns, power forward packs a lot of depth.
But in the end, Durant's qualifying at two positions -- and the position with the most scarcity -- gives him the edge.
Fine. Let's look pure production. Who delivers the best raw volume?
I like to approach this in terms of categorical scarcity. Which individual categories are the hardest from which to mine top-shelf value?
Durant provides elite to super-elite production in points, 3s and the percentage categories. He has no negatives other than turnovers.
Westbrook is elite to super-elite in points, assists, steals and free throw percentage. The man is close to averaging an Oscar Robertson-esque triple-double.
Westbrook does have one ding in his resume: 3-point shooting. He's a career 30 percent 3-point shooter. And he's trending down from the 32-33 percent he averaged from 2010-14. Westbrook's lack of outside shooting drags his field goal percentage down to a pedestrian (yet career-high) .460. That's problematic for a player with Westbrook's shot attempts (18.5 FGA per game).
Westbrook is dominant in steals, one of fantasy's most top-heavy categories. He's currently atop the player rater in steals production. He's second in assists, behind only Rajon Rondo.
At first glance, Durant doesn't have Westbrook's categorical sizzle. He doesn't lead the league in a single category, but he makes up for it with a more diversified portfolio. Durant ranks ninth in field goal percentage, third in free throw percentage, ninth in 3-pointers and third in points.
Both players also have one area of elite out-of-position production. Westbrook is the best rebounding point guard in basketball, with 7.5 boards per game. As a SF/PF, Durant covers more statistical expectations, but he's still the sixth-best forward when it comes to assists.
Durant's secret statistical sauce? Free throw shooting. At 89 percent, Durant is super-elite from the line. But when you combine that with 6.9 attempts per game, it adds up to a huge baseline benefit for fantasy teams.
Again, a lot of this comes down to philosophy. But in terms of raw production and options coming out of the first round, I'd rather have the player who allows me to go in any direction.
Let's talk efficiency. For 2015-16, Westbrook edges Durant in PER 28.95 to 28.09. In terms of starting-caliber players, they are second and third behind Stephen Curry.
Westbrook gets an advantage due to his high assist-to-turnover ratio. Durant gets a boost thanks to his sky-high true shooting percentage (63.4 TS% compared to Westbrook's career-high 55.6 TS%).
Let's call this one a wash.
Finally, what about long-term prospects? Durant is about a month older than Westbrook. Both players have missed significant time with injuries, and that has balanced out with periods of relative indestructability.
Whose game will age better? History sides with Durant.
As he ages, Durant can always transition primarily to a stretch 4. His shot range should serve him well into his 30s. Think of how simply having one unstoppable shot (a la Dirk Nowitzki) can provide production well into an NBA player's expected dotage.
Westbrook has no other position. Most point guards tend to edge past their statistical primes by age 29. Any point guard who relies on athleticism like Westbrook does is due for an earlier drop-off.
Again, for this year and next year, Durant versus Westbrook is a fantastic quandary to encounter. I'd rather watch Westbrook. Durant's across-the-board greatness isn't as explosive as Westbrook's potential to go absolutely nuts on a nightly basis.
If they both remain with the Thunder? I'll go with steady over seismic.