Padanilam: Westbrook is clear choice for MVP
Benjamin Padanilam | Wednesday, March 22, 2017
As the NBA’s regular season winds to a close, its MVP conversation has started to heat up.
There are several worthy candidates for this season’s honor, so there is no need to fear or expect a repeat of last year’s unanimous outcome. James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas and Kevin Durant would all be worthy candidates.
But there’s one clear choice as to who should get the award this year: Russell Westbrook.
The one-of-a-kind point guard has put up numbers the likes of which we have not seen in decades. Averaging a triple-double this season with his per-game averages, the statistics alone would seem to make his case for him, as they demonstrate his impact in all areas of the game. But while those numbers capture everyone’s attention, they are far from the only justification for his selection.
People will look to James and argue he should be the MVP every season. And as a Cleveland Cavaliers fan, I can’t necessarily say I disagree. But it’s difficult to justify his selection given the strength of the team he plays for and the fact the Cavaliers can rest him every so often without fear of losing their place at the top of the East. And while Durant’s value has been clear with the Warriors’ relative struggles in his absence, it is difficult to say the league’s MVP is a player on a team that won 73 games last season without him.
Leonard and Thomas are both strong candidates as well, but the fact is that their impact on the court — great as it might be — doesn’t surpass that of Harden and Westbrook. They’re clearly the best players on contending teams, but they don’t have as strong a case as the aforementioned duo when you consider their numbers and use the eye test.
That leaves us with the two final candidates: the two players everyone has suspected would be vying for the honor since the season’s start. Harden has 19 triple-doubles on the year, while Westbrook has 34. Harden’s Houston Rockets currently sit as the Western conference’s third best team, while Westbrook’s Thunder sit 8 1/2 games behind them in sixth place.
Harden offers almost as strong a case as Westbrook; many teams will point to his team’s record to point to him rather than Westbrook, but Harden has also been nearly as historic as his counterpart. Earlier this season, Harden became the game’s first player ever to post a 50-point, 15-rebound and 15-assist triple-double, and seven of his 19 triple-doubles have featured a 40-point scoring effort on his part.
But the real case for Westbrook comes in debunking the largest criticism against him — that he is nothing more than a stat-chaser. People will point to his 42 percent shooting clip from the field to point to his offensive inefficiency and say he’s only going for numbers. But it cannot be ignored that Harden — his main competition — only shoots 44 percent from the floor, marking him as an also rather inefficient scorer. Moreover, the Thunder need Westbrook to score, rebound and grab assists.
Oklahoma City does not have another player who can create offense for himself or his teammates, so he’s going to be inefficient for that very reason. They also need him to crash the boards because their next-best rebounder grabs less than eight boards a game, and the team’s third-best rebounder has been out for weeks with a fractured forearm. And the most telling statistic? The Thunder have an .823 win percentage when he notches a triple-double, and just a .333 win percentage when he doesn’t.
So the Thunder need Westbrook to put up numbers and have an impact in all areas of the game, and he’s done just that to push a poor Thunder team into the playoff picture. And as a result, there’s no player with a better claim to be called the league’s most valuable player.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.