Welcome to the Greatest Moment series at Last Word On Pro Basketball, where we’ll present to you each NBA team’s greatest moment of the 21st century. From draft lottery luck, to a franchise-changing trade, to the sweet taste of a championship, every NBA team has had its own special moment to look back on.
Greatest Oklahoma City Thunder Moment of the 21st Century: Russell Westbrook’s MVP Season
Some would claim that Russell Westbrook’s style is selfish and a bit disabling to an overall team effort. However, his play and style gave the Oklahoma City Thunder a chance to compete in the playoffs this past season. Whether his play made the team a success or not, Westbrook was out on a mission to prove to the NBA, the city, and the fans that he could lead this franchise without the help of recently departed Kevin Durant.
The Thunder had been to the Finals in 2012, but only managed to win one game against the LeBron James–led Miami Heat. This was OKC’s peak, but it did not come close to Westbrook breaking a record that many thought would never be broken. Westbrook’s record-setting year was then capped off by winning the Most Valuable Player award. He beat out worthy MVP candidates in James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron James. Westbrook delivered electric performances and magnificent game-winning shots to lead the Thunder to a 47-35 record and a sixth seed in the playoffs.
Kevin Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder in the 2016 off-season was the precursor to many questions about the team and Westbrook. However, Durant’s departure only created a fresh style of play for Westbrook, who thrived as the number one option. His ability to continually record triple doubles and win crucial games kept experts at bay. His “selfish” play may not be a great long-term offensive plan, but it made a point to the league. That point was that Westbrook didn’t need Durant to win games and be successful.
A Historic Season
The Thunder had a bad tendency to get behind in the fourth quarter and require some saving. On at least nine occurrences, Russell Westbrook proved to be that savior. In games against the Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic, and many more, Westbrook brought the team back from double digits and hit a game-winner or a clutch shot towards the end. The most dynamic of the late-game heroics came against the Denver Nuggets in April. Oklahoma City was down by 15 with just more than five minutes remaining in the game. Westbrook then took matters into his own hands. He finished the contest by draining a deep three as time expired to eliminate the Nuggets from playoff contention.
In addition to his repeated heroics, Westbrook’s raw numbers were simply stunning. He averaged 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game, becoming the first player to average a triple double for an entire season since Oscar Robertson in the 1961-62 season.
An Argument Against the Season
Westbrook’s MVP season was spectacular to watch and even more entertaining to debate. However, the biggest debate came from his selection as MVP. Harden and Leonard led better teams that won more regular season games. The playoffs occur after the voting ends, but regardless, it doesn’t help Westbrook’s case that the Thunder were eliminated by Harden’s Houston Rockets, who were defeated by Leonard’s San Antonio Spurs in the conference semifinals. These are moot points since the Golden State Warriors only lost one game during the entire NBA playoffs and Finals; no team truly competed with them.
But we must acknowledge that Westbrook’s accomplishment was very much a personal one, rather than a team achievement. That directly opposes Durant’s 2013-14 MVP season, when the Thunder finished second in the West. As great a season as Durant had with an accomplished team, Westbrook’s solo campaign was more historic and more impressive.
Westbrook’s Place in History
Russell Westbrook is the second player in history to average a triple double. That’s not a single moment or a game-winning shot, but it is easily the greatest season in Thunder history. Seeing as Oscar Robertson did it nearly 60 years ago, it seemed as though there would never be another player to pull off the feat. There can be no understatement of how difficult it was to achieve. Westbrook’s season should and will go down in history for the league and the Thunder franchise. Durant’s departure and Golden State’s super-team will more than likely overshadow the elements of Westbrook’s triple double season, but it will never be forgotten.