Earlier in the NBA season, I wrote a column making a case for Giannis Antetokounmpo to be the league’s 2016-17 Most Valuable Player. While that was more of a look into his incredible statistics – he leads the Milwaukee Bucks in every major category – the Greek Freak isn’t really a viable candidate for the award at this stage in his career. No, this year’s MVP should be Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
There have been many arguments about who should win MVP all season and those debates will continue even after the winner is announced. Many say LeBron James should always win the MVP award, simply because he is the most valuable player to any given team. Put him on the Philadelphia 76ers and they are one of the best in the conference, if not the best. Take him off the Cleveland Cavaliers and they might get a playoff spot because of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but they won’t be one of the best teams in the league.
Based on all that, it seems pretty clear cut. James is the easy choice, no doubt about it. So if you’re wondering why I’m picking Westbrook to win the award, it’s because the NBA MVP award hasn’t been strictly given to the “most valuable” player. To put it in perspective, Kobe Bryant, one of the top 10 (maybe even top five) players of all time, only won the regular-season MVP award once. The MVP award is quite the misnomer as it always ends up being given to a player who statistically had the best season, rather than the most valuable player. Given the precedent of how the award has been handed out in the past, the 2016-17 NBA regular-season MVP should unquestionably be Russell Westbrook.
Let’s start with the most obvious reason: triple-doubles. Westbrook is on the verge of breaking the great Oscar Robertson’s 55-year-old record of 41 triple-doubles in a single season – he has four games left and needs one triple-double to go down in the history books. Even Robertson has come out and applauded Westbrook for his incredible season.
Westbrook has taken it upon himself to do everything for the Thunder and, in doing so, has managed to average a triple-double with 31.8 points per game (first in the league), 10.4 assists per game (third in the league) and 10.7 rebounds per game (10th in the league). Westbrook also sits at tenth in the league in steals with 1.7 per game and has guided the Thunder to sixth place in the Western Conference despite the bitter departure of former teammate, Kevin Durant, to the first-place Golden State Warriors.
For those who claim that Westbrook is just a stat-stuffer or steals rebounds from his teammates in the quest for the title of triple-double king, the Thunder are actually a much better team when Westbrook earns triple-doubles. As a matter of fact, OKC has a 32-9 record when Westbrook reaches that mark, good for a winning percentage of .780. It’s not as though Westbrook is negatively impacting his team when he does the “selfish” thing by going for a triple-double. He goes for wins in the process.
People also say Westbrook is an inefficient, volume shooter. It might be fair to say that Westbrook is a volume shooter with 24 shots per game on average. Part of that is because of his high usage rate of 41.7 percent, which is due to the fact that he has to have control of the ball for his team to succeed. If the ball doesn’t touch his hands by the end of a possession, it’s probably not the Thunder’s best possession. Furthermore, Westbrook only shoots 42 percent from the field and 35 percent from behind the arc, which are respectable but not the most efficient numbers.
Nevertheless, Westbrook is still by far the most efficient player in the league based on the PER metric (player efficiency rating), perhaps one of the best statistical determinants of a player’s value. Westbrook leads the league with a PER of 30.84, more than three points higher than the next best Kawhi Leonard and, you guessed it, Durant.
Frankly, regardless of whether or not Westbrook gets the triple-double he needs to break Robertson’s record, the season has had this year is too incredible statistically, on a number of levels, to ignore. Under the conditions that the regular-season MVP award is given to the most statistically outstanding player, as it has generally been for longer than I’ve been alive, not giving Westbrook the award would be surprise, and somewhat a shame.
I cannot deny the greatness that LeBron has brought to the game of basketball and his unbelievable value, but what Russ has done this season is too good, too impressive, too record-breaking and has MVP written all over it. Just give the Brodie the award and call it a day.