Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook has done everything necessary to win himself the coveted MVP award. While he ultimately may not win the award, he certainly should.
In the end, the vote is going to come down to Westbrook and Houston Rockets guard James Harden. Both have had spectacular years, but Westbrook’s has been a cut above even Harden’s. LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard will also get recognition, but the Cavs’ indifference toward the regular season and Leonard’s support system leave Westbrook as the only real choice.
Westbrook is on pace to become the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double. His triple-doubles aren’t meaningless stat padding, either. The Thunder, who are clearly talent deficient, need every point and every rebound.
The Thunder superstar is averaging 31.8 PPG, 10.4 APG, and 10.6 RPG, and Oklahoma City has already clinched a playoff spot–despite losing Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka last summer.
The greatest argument for Westbrook is his teammates. Outside of Enes Kanter and Victor Oladipo–neither of whom are stars–the Thunder lack even basic offensive talent. If Westbrook is not playing at a level 10 every night, Oklahoma City has no chance to win. Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, and the newly acquired Taj Gibson are all minus offensive players. They excel defensively, but the only basket they’re scoring is the one where Westbrook flings a pass to them, which leads to a wide open look.
Take, for instance, the Thunder’s most recent win over the Orlando Magic. The Magic, with more eyes on the draft lottery than actually winning games, were beating the Thunder by 20 points during one stretch in the third quarter.
Westbrook forced overtime with an off-balance three-point heave, and carried his team through the overtime session. The Thunder needed Westbrook to erupt for 57 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists just to have a chance to beat an indifferent Magic team already planning vacations. That’s the value of Westbrook.
"There’s nothing else you can do," Magic center Nikola Vucevic said after the game. “He’s a hell of a player, and he’s been doing it for 70 games now, carrying that team every night. I think the numbers he’s putting up are amazing. You just tip your hat when he does stuff like that, and even in overtime, he made a lot of big shots, and before, in the fourth quarter, he made a couple of big threes. He’s a big-time player."
The Rockets value Harden in much the same way, but general manager Daryl Morey constructed a team with far more support. The team was built to accentuate Harden’s strengths, featuring some excellent offensive weapons. Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Patrick Beverley, and Trevor Ariza can all stretch the floor and make three-pointers, with the latter two also serving as elite defenders.
Oklahoma City cannot stretch the floor the way that Houston can, which makes Westbrook’s job that much harder. The detractors will point to analytics–Westbrook isn’t as efficient and he takes too many shots and all of that. The reality is: he needs to. Westbrook doesn’t have the luxury of kicking out passes to Anderson and Gordon, two of the league’s better three-point shooters.
Neither team could excel without their respective stars, but given Durant’s exodus–and the scorched earth that Westbrook needed to wade through–he deserves the award, with Harden finishing in second.