No one questions the offensive gifts displayed by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Durant averages 27.4 points per game during the regular season and 29 points per game during the playoffs, and he was the 2013-2014 NBA MVP. Westbrook went supernova during the 2014 NBA playoffs, averaging 27.3 points per game, 8.4 rebounds and 8.1 assists. Durant and Westbrook have played together in Oklahoma City since 2008, but a championship trophy eluded them.

Then, in 2013-2014, something changed. Durant and Westbrook learned to rely on their teammates. Those who love to bet on basketball saw the Thunder become a cohesive team and a major threat during that season. As long as Durant and Westbrook continue to recognize that they need their teammates, there won’t be many limits to what the Thunder can do.{jathumbnail off}

Pep Talk

According to Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports, Durant and Westbrook each got pre-season pep talks from Thunder head coach Scott Brooks. “I told them that we have to make another jump with our team passing and that it starts with the two of them,” Brooks told Spears. “We are still a work in progress, but made a jump this year.”

In Game two of their second round playoff matchup with the Clippers, Durant and Westbrook put up unbelievable numbers. They became the first teammates in NBA history to each have at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in the same game. During Game three, the story was all about the team. Durant scored 30 points and Westbrook put up a triple-double, but Serge Ibaka also scored 20 points despite being in almost immediate foul trouble at the start of the game, and Caron Butler and Reggie Jackson both contributed 14 points off of the bench.

Ghosts of Champions Past

Derek Fisher, the Thunder’s veteran guard who played on the L.A. Lakers’ championship teams between 2000 and 2002, compares Durant and Westbrook to Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Durant and Westbrook are friends, so they don’t have the interpersonal friction that O’Neal and Bryant sometimes displayed. The real comparison is how they’ve learned, as O’Neal and Bryant did, to trust their teammates.

”What makes them great is the supreme confidence they have in themselves,” Fisher told Yahoo Sports. “They have the physical gifts of a great athlete, but mentally and psychologically they believe they are the best in the world. So sometimes it takes longer for a certain amount of trust in other people to develop. But I think these guys have been great as they’ve grown up in their 20s, giving more and more rope to other guys on the team and really allowing our team to grow and mature.”

Team Effort

In the 2013 NBA playoffs, Westbrook was out with a knee injury, and Durant was alone. Durant tried to play every role by himself, from point guard to power forward and everything in-between. This year, when the knee benched Westbrook during the regular season, Durant turned to his teammates, particularly Ibaka and Jackson, to pick up the slack.

Jackson had an outstanding season, and he was considered as a candidate for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. Ibaka shot over 60 percent in the 2014 NBA playoffs, and he showed his defensive prowess throughout the season. With all of the attention on Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder always had open shooters. Thanks to a season of teamwork that built their confidence, Ibaka and the other non-superstar Thunder players were able to deliver when it mattered most.

Becoming Champions

The Thunder’s best chance for adding a championship trophy to their case isn’t to rely solely on Durant and Westbrook. During Game three with the Clippers, the Thunder entered the fourth quarter, four points down. Caron Butler was the Thunder’s leading scorer during the quarter, and he sank a three-pointer on a Durant pass that gave the Thunder the lead. Ibaka extended the lead with a dunk, and Jackson shot four clutch freethrows to deliver the victory.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti demands that all promotional material to be team-oriented. He doesn’t put up billboards of Durant or Westbrook; he puts up billboards of the entire team. Thanks to a fresh approach to teamwork, Oklahoma City’s Dynamic Duo has turned into a veritable Justice League. The championship trophy won’t elude them for long.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook individual images by Keith Allison from Owings Mills, USA from Wikimedia Commons.

Westbrook and Durant during game image by Yzukerman from Wikimedia Commons.