The case for Kevin Durant over Russell Westbrook in fantasy

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both among the top players in fantasy this season. J Pat Carter/Getty Images

Who won the divorce?

When it comes to our high-profile couples, that unfortunate question is hard-wired into humanity.

A super-couple torn apart. Shudders. Splits. Despite all of the pairing's obvious symbiotic benefits. Post-schism pontification immediately shifts to who's winning and who's losing.

It happens in sports, too. When I was a younger, thinner fantasy enthusiast?

It was Kobe and Shaq.

Oh my, young people, you have no idea. As of this writing, you hand me 45 minutes and a Telecaster, and I could still write a half-decent extemporaneous rock opera on the Laker Summer of 2004.

The ultimate inside-outside punch, splintered and scattered across two coasts.

From a fantasy perspective, Kobe won. Hands down. It's wasn't even close.

Age, a decade of constant above-the-rim battering, Kazaam, and a sub-.500 free throw percentage had already conspired to take Shaq down a numerical peg.

But Kobe was just entering his statistical prime. He vacuumed every possession in sight. The roster was reconfigured to facilitate outside-inside. His vacated usage rate (from 29.1 in 2003-04 to 38.7 in 2005-06) was all Kobe needed to ride off onto a five-year statistical vendetta ride.

Cut to 2016. The "it" split: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Versus Kobe and Shaq from a reality-based perspective? Not even close. OKC never won a championship.

But from a fantasy perspective, Durant vs. Westbrook is deeper dish stuff. We're talking two players in the midst of their statistical primes.

Durant evacuated to join one of the most brutally efficient offensive amalgamations in the history of basketball. Westbrook remained in Oklahoma City, signed an extension and gets to play out of this world one-on-five for 35.7 minutes a night.

So who won the divorce?

Stroll through Fantasyland, and Westbrook is accruing the predominant amount of hype. That's understandable. When you're throwing down triple-doubles (11 out of 22 games) every other night, you transform. You're drool-worthy. You're 1961 Oscar Robertson. ('61-'62 Robertson: 30.8 PTS, 12.5 REB, 11.4 AST.)

'16-'17 Westbrook: 31.0 PTS, 10.9 REB, 11.3 AST, 1.9 3PT, 1.3 STL, 0.4 BLK

'16-'17 Durant: 27.0 PTS, 8.4 REB, 4.7 AST, 2.0 3PT, 1.5 STL, 1.8 BLK

Volume trumps efficiency. Durant might be closer to a title, but in fantasy, Westbrook is the player locked into beast mode for the foreseeable future. Heck, we have three prospective fantasy MVPs that overwhelm Durant via sheer force of possession: Westbrook, Anthony Davis and James Harden.

Just yesterday, our own Joe Kaiser put Westbrook at No. 1 on our fantasy rankings. Kevin Durant: No. 3. But while I respect Joe Kaiser as one of Fantasyland's wisest, craftiest, smartest, most camera-ready experts, I respectfully agree to disagree.

Durant vs. Westbrook?

Kevin Durant is the fantasy MVP. Hands down.

Pull up a chair. Because it's not even as close as you think. Because I would be hard-pressed to put Westbrook in my top five.

Take a gander at our Player Rater. Durant is a solid No. 1 at 20.48 player rater points. That's 20.48 player rater points while having to share the ball with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.

Westbrook on our Player Rater? Barely hanging onto No. 5 with 16.79 points.

If I'm redrafting right now, I'd take Durant, Davis, Harden and Curry over Westbrook. I'd even consider Giannis Antetokounmpo (and his multipositional eligibility) over Westbrook.

And if I'm redrafting in a league that tabulates turnovers, Westbrook barely makes my top 10. I'd also rather have Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, or Kawhi Leonard. Maybe even Draymond Green.

This isn't a hot take. This is science. This is what we parents call a "teachable moment."

Because winning at fantasy basketball is 50 percent volume. And still 50 percent efficiency.

Yes, Westbrook is sporting a career high 29.8 PER. Which is galvanized by Westbrook's 41.6 usage rate. Which, extrapolated over a full season, would be the highest single-season usage rate in the history of everything. It would shatter Kobe's 2005-06 rate of 38.7.

But take a look at the percentages:

'16-'17 Westbrook: 42.7 FG%, 81.0 FT%, 33.3 3PT% 53.9 TS%, 46.6 eFG%

'16-'17 Durant: 56.5 FG%, 86.7 FT%, 42.0 3PT%, 67.9 TS%, 62.4 eFG%

Durant's percentages are staggering. Even more drool-worthy.

Extrapolated over a full season, Durant's 3-pointer-laden 67.9 percent true shooting percentage would rank as one of the great shooting performances ever. Even better than Curry's 2015-16 mark of 66.9 percent.

And we're not talking Kyle Korver here. Durant is taking 23.3 shots a night. Launching 6.6 3-pointers. Taking 9.6 free throws. It's not GOAT Westbrook usage, but we're still talking about a player with All-Star volume.

Durant still has a 27.3 usage rate. So he's backing up his GOAT shooting percentages with a ton of point-based production.

And a still-higher-than-Westbrook PER of 30.3.

Let's break that down by ESPN Player Rater category.

Westbrook leads in point production with 3.89 player rater points. Durant ranks seventh with 3.03 points. Westbrook is just ahead of Harden in assists (5.92 points to 5.76). Durant is only 28th in assists at 1.83 points. Westbrook is eighth in rebounds (amazing for a PG). Durant is 19th.

Westbrook wins in those three categories.

But Durant is No. 1 in field goal percentage with 4.36 player rater points.

Westbrook is 389th.

Durant is also ninth in free throws, 28th in 3-pointers, 21st in steals and ninth in blocks. He beats Westbrook in all of those categories.

Durant helps everywhere. Westbrook's game sports a sizable divot.

Fantasy seasons are a long slog. Westbrook in 2016-17 is preternaturally thrilling to watch. The most must-see player in the NBA. But while it's fun to count the triple-doubles, winning teams are built upon efficiency and volume.

From 2010 to 2016, Durant and Westbrook were equally and collectively thrilling. The most exhilarating duo in all of basketball. But getting past the Spurs and the Warriors every postseason can be a drag.

So it ended. And like Kobe and Shaq, playing "what if?" can leave you depressed.

But any attempt to put what Westbrook is doing ahead of Durant for fantasy purposes is misguided. It sends the wrong message.

Don't be blinded by possession. That's NBA reality. In fantasy? Study pace. Study percentages.

When you share the basketball the way the Warriors do? When you create that kind of rarified operational space? You end up with offensive numbers we haven't seen before.

You're outer rim. You're beyond Pluto. You can't reference 1961 Oscar Robertson.

Who won the divorce?


It's not even close.