With only eight days left until the NBA playoffs begin, the hot-topic discussion of who will win the Most Valuable Player award is circulating at an all-time high. Even though many fans vouch for LeBron James out of admiration for arguably the greatest in the game, and talks of Kawhi Leonard have picked up, the race this year is really down to two candidates: Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
However, when taking a look at where these two players are 78 games into the season, I wonder why we are still having this discussion. Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder deserves the MVP award. Part of me isn’t sure how this is still up for debate.
The Case to Make Russell Westbrook MVP
The Definition of MVP
Before I get into the numbers and make my case for Westbrook as MVP, I want to make clear the common misinterpretation of the MVP award. MVP stands for Most Valuable Player (I think that’s something widely known), but for some reason, it seems that the words “valuable” and “best” get interchanged sometimes when discussing candidates for this award. I want to get the objective definitions of these down so that the argument is made clearly with any disagreements coming in terms of candidates and not in definitions.
“Valuable” is defined as “having monetary value” or “having desirable or esteemed characteristics or qualities,” while “best” is described as “excelling all others” or “most productive of good” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Clearly, these two things do not mean the same thing. Otherwise, Stephen Curry or LeBron James might win this award every year. Instead, we are looking at value. This is where Russell comes in.
Triple-Doubles for Days (or Half of the Season)
Russell Westbrook just tied Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in a season with 41. Forty-one triple-doubles. Forty-one times he has recorded double-digits in points, rebounds, and assists. Meanwhile, his competitor, Harden, has 20. Don’t get me wrong, 20 is still a lot, especially considering the only other person that has more than ten is LeBron, who holds 12 on the season. However, 41 is on the verge of record-breaking; and 41 helps sell Westbrook’s case of being the most valuable. If you know that a player is going to put up a triple-double in half of the games in a season, he is clearly going to be an impactful player and will hold a lot of value to any team.
1961-62 Oscar Robertson: Played over 3500 minutes
2016-17 Russell Westbrook: Played 2700 minutes.
Each had 41 triple-doubles. Wow.
Per Game Statistics Breakdown: Westbrook vs. Harden
Westbrook has not only recorded 41 triple-doubles, but he is also averaging 31.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists. He is the only player to average a triple-double in the league this year. He is doing so while taking an average of 24 shots per game but still maintaining a fairly good field goal percentage at 42.6%. When comparing these numbers to Harden, they aren’t terribly far off. Harden averages 29.2 PPG (19 FGA, 44.0 FG% ), 8.1 REB, and 11.2 AST. As one of the best players offensively in the NBA right now, he can keep competing with Westbrook statistically. However, when we look at the team impact, things are different.
Without Westbrook, the Thunder probably would not be even close to where they are right now. His usage percentage – “an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor” (Basketball-Reference) – stands at 41.7%. This means that 41.7% of the time, Westbrook is used to run plays and the offense. Even though he has not been extremely efficient shooting the ball, his high usage percentage proves that he has a large impact on how things are run on the court.
If Westbrook is off, things aren’t going to go well for the Thunder. However, this superstar hasn’t missed a game this season. With that being said, I think it’s safe to say that the Thunder’s position as the six seed in the Western Conference right now has a lot to do with Westbrook. It’s hard telling where this team would be without him. It all comes back to that middle word of the MVP acronym: valuable.
Give Westbrook the Trophy
After one of the most impressive seasons we have seen from an individual player in quite some time, I believe that Russell Westbrook deserves the award this year. However, it’s not up to me – it comes down to sports writers and broadcasters weighing their options and casting their votes.
What we do know for sure is that we have a lot to look forward to eight days from now when the playoffs tip-off. With the Houston Rockets at No. 3 and the Thunder at No. 6, it looks like we will get to see these two front-runners go head-to-head. Maybe that will solve any lingering disputes before the NBA announces the award on June 26th.
In the meantime, here’s a non-basketball example of why Russell should be MVP this year:
I rest my case.
All statistics are from www.basketball-reference.com and are accurate as of April 7th, 2017 before play.
BARCELONA, SPAIN – OCTOBER 05: Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City Thunder looks on during the warm up prior to the NBA Global Games Spain 2016 match between FC Barcelona Lassa and Oklahoma City Thunder at Palau Sant Jordi on October 5, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)