Russell Westbrook can potentially repeat as NBA MVP next season, even with the addition of Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder. If the comparison between Westbrook, James Harden, and Kawhi Leonard can remain equal, Westbrook can finish number one in the MVP race again. Although, the lineup the Thunder have now will enable Westbrook to succeed and maybe improve on the team chemistry from last season.
The Case for Russell Westbrook’s MVP Repeat
The Case Against James Harden
The runner up in the MVP race last season was Houston Rockets guard James Harden, who led the Rockets into the 2nd round in a losing series versus the San Antonio Spurs. Harden, like Westbrook, has a high usage rate with the basketball. Most plays start with or go through him at some point, either in assists or scoring baskets. Harden’s supporting cast was solid, but nowhere near top level play. This led to a “put the team on my back” attitude, which some claim may have cost them Game 6 versus the Spurs. In this aspect he mirrored Westbrook, who put his Thunder teammates on his back just to get to the playoffs as a six seed.
Houston Adds Chris Paul
Both teams made additions in the off-season as the Rockets traded for point guard Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers. This move helps Harden, who can now allow some plays to begin with and move through Paul. This enables Harden to move off-ball and spot up shoot. In the idea of MVP however, his assist opportunities and overall shots will decrease, as Paul is a natural leader and floor general of his respective team.
Harden could lose his averages in certain categories and build in his points and shots. With another guard picking up minutes, it could lead Paul into more points and a larger role as a true point guard. Harden is a superior shooter and playmaker compared to Paul. He will benefit from having another set of eyes for passes and shot opportunities. This will be a change from his previous season of running basically the entire offense through him. These chemistry changes might take Harden a few years to adjust to which can, and most likely will, hurt his MVP case.
The Case Against Kawhi Leonard
Leonard is a young player who has a chance to be one of the best players in history. The San Antonio Spurs are a franchise that is always at the top and can beat anyone on any given night. Unfortunately, they made no changes in the off-season and have generally the same team they had last season. This diminishes his MVP case as teammates Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are getting older and less able to produce. That combined with the Spurs getting low draft picks and not many off-season moves increase the difficulty in building a team around Leonard.
But on an individual basis, it is looking like Leonard’s statistics will remain like last year. The season is still months away and some big names are looking for new teams, which means the Spurs can bring in replacements for aging Ginobili and Parker to stay competitive with the Golden State Warriors.
The Case Against LeBron James
As of now, Kyrie Irving is still a Cleveland Cavalier, so LeBron James currently has his same lineup from last season. James is in the conversation for greatest player of all time and has won three finals, three finals MVP’s, and four regular season MVP’s which only boosts his case for MVP. There is no need to go into his talents and intangible characteristics because everyone knows and nobody doubts his greatness.
Cleveland Cavaliers Without Irving?
If James and the Cavaliers lose Irving this season, then his case for MVP diminishes as he will need to run more offense through his hands. The argument for how good Irving is irrelevant as James is always going to be James when he has the ball. But, the loss of a Irving can impact his ability to rest and come off the floor during close games.
He sat eight games last season and still averaged 37.8 minutes a game, which is 10-plus minutes out a game. This adds up to about 15 and a half more games of rest. Losing Irving would jeopardize a lead late in the game where James needs to rest or sit out completely. As the team stands currently, he does not have much of a chance of winning another MVP.
The Case for Russell Westbrook: Why Not?
55 years went by without any player averaging a triple double for an entire season. Oscar Robertson did what many players, analysts, and coaches deemed impossible to replicate in 1962 with the Cincinnati Royals by averaging 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists per game. Robertson did not even win the MVP that year, losing to winner Bill Russell and runner-up Wilt Chamberlain. It should be noted the MVP was voted by the players up until 1980.
Westbrook not only averaged a triple double with 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists, but he also won the MVP trophy. He amassed nearly two-thirds of the first-place votes. Westbrook made a point to show fans and players he was never reliant on Kevin Durant, who had left for the Warriors in the prior off-season. His ability to score at the rim at any moment and come through in clutch games throughout the season made the vote easier to choose over Harden.
Oklahoma City Adds Paul George
However, with the addition of Paul George, Westbrook could reach new levels and take the stress off his back. George can be a valuable player, but many question how good he truly is. In Indiana, he did not show much in the clutch and team leadership, but also drove the lane and hit his shots effectively.
In the case for Westbrook’s MVP, George only adds to the assist rate as he can be a spot up shooter as Westbrook drives or even make the passes into the lane for assists himself. The real bonus George can offer is wins for the team. If the Thunder can win 10 more games, Westbrook’s statistics do not look so meaningless. If Westbrook plays like Westbrook and George is a true number two option, there should be no reason that he cannot repeat as MVP.