Making a Case: Russell Westbrook for NBA MVP


If you follow the NBA, you know the name Russell Westbrook.

If you follow sports in general, you likely know, or have at least heard, the name Russell Westbrook.

This season, in the extended absence of teammate Kevin Durant, the 26 year-old point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder has gone from perennial All-Star to new heights, becoming arguably the most dynamic player in the entire NBA.

Much of his success can be attributed to the absence of Durant, as the Thunder rely more heavily upon Westbrook without a definitive secondary scoring threat in the lineup. This, though, also works to point out Westbrook’s importance to the Thunder, as exemplified by Oklahoma City going 4-10 over a 14-game span with both Durant and Westbrook out of the lineup.

In the only other game Westbrook missed this season, the Thunder defeated the Los Angeles Lakers, giving the team a 5-10 record in games without Westbrook. With Westbrook in the lineup, the Thunder are 35-20. Though a smaller sample size, it appears clear that the Thunder are a much better team when Russell Westbrook is in the lineup.

With Westbrook and Durant both in the lineup this season, the Thunder have gone 18-9, proving that Durant is an important asset to the team, and the team would be better off with both men healthy, than having to rely on just Westbrook for the majority of the season. But, even more so, this strengthens the case for Westbrook to be voted the NBA’s Most Valuable Player this season. The fact that even without their secondary scoring threat the Thunder are still in position to make the playoffs, proves just how important Westbrook’s presence on the court truly is for Oklahoma City.

And in all of this, not once yet have his personal statistics even come into the conversation. Simply his presence on the court makes the Thunder a better team, and that is what an MVP is- the player who is the most valuable to his team, which is exactly what Westbrook has been this season.

Now, before we get into Westbrook’s statistics, let’s discuss the two most commonly mentioned names, alongside Westbrook’s, in the MVP race: James Harden and Stephen Curry.

James Harden

Harden of the Houston Rockets, like Westbrook, has almost single-handedly guided his team to success this season in the wake of injuries to key contributors. The Rockets have been without center Dwight Howard for much of the season, and yet the team has not lost stride, with Harden and players like Trevor Ariza and Donatas Motiejunas pulling things together to make the Rockets winners this season.

Currently seated in 3rd place in the Western Conference, the Rockets are comfortably in the playoff picture and would have to suffer a catastrophic collapse to close the season for them to miss the playoffs. Through Harden’s offensive leadership, the Rockets have been able to band together as a team to find a winning strategy. In this, and his personal, statistical accomplishments this season, Harden is certainly in the discussion when it comes to candidates for the MVP.

Stephen Curry

Curry of the Golden State Warriors, like Westbrook and Harden, deserves to have his name mentioned in discussion about the NBA MVP. He has enjoyed a superb statistical season, helped the Warriors to first place in the Western Conference, and given them the opportunity to enter the playoffs with the NBA’s best record. The Warriors have only lost 13 games to this point in the season, and a large degree of that success can be placed squarely upon the shoulders of Steph Curry.

Unlike Harden and Westbrook, however, Curry has been fortunate enough to have a strong team foundation surrounding him all season. The Warriors have five separate players who are averaging 10+ points per game, with Curry and shooting guard Klay Thompson both averaging over 20 points per game. An increase in playing time for third-year small forward Draymond Green has seen him nearly double his points-per-game average and assists-per-game averages from last season. It could in fact be argued, that the Warriors are the most complete team in the entire league.

Now, this takes nothing away from Curry who has had himself a fantastic season, but it is harder to directly pinpoint the reason for the Warriors’ success to Curry, while Harden and Westbrook are clearly the catalysts and most valuable assets to their teams.

With this in mind, let’s move on to the statistical evidence for all three players:

(Preface: The statistical data presented below may be slightly skewed in Westbrook’s favor, due to the statistics being “-per-game averages”, and Westbrook having played less games this season than Harden and Curry.)

Statistics:

Games Played

Russell Westbrook, 55 games played

James Harden, 69 games played

Stephen Curry, 67 games played

Points-per-game Average

League Rank  Player PPG
1 Russell Westbrook 27.5
2 James Harden 27.2
7 Stephen Curry 23.3

Assists-per-game Average

League Rank  Player APG
4 Russell Westbrook 8.7
6 Stephen Curry 7.9
T-8 James Harden 7.0

Rebounds-per-game Average

League Rank  Player RPG
T-38 Russell Westbrook 7.3
T-67 James Harden 5.8
T-117 Stephen Curry 4.3

Double-Doubles

League Rank  Player D-Dbl
T-14 Russell Westbrook 26
T-21 Stephen Curry 20
T-27 James Harden 18

Triple-Doubles

League Rank  Player T-Dbl
1 Russell Westbrook 9
T-2 James Harden 3
Stephen Curry 0

(statistics current as of March 23)

As can be seen above, in the major statistical categories, Russell Westbrook ranks ahead of both James Harden and Stephen Curry. He is scoring at a higher average per game than both, though the argument can be made that his higher average is related to having played fewer games, meaning he has not had to maintain his average for as long as Harden or Curry. This can also be argued for all of the above “per-game average” statistics.

What cannot, however, be argued against is Westbrook’s pure dominance in the amount of games that he has played this season. In just 56 games played, Westbrook has secured a double-double nearly once every other game he has appeared in, and has tallied a league-high 9 triple-doubles. Harden is tied for second with just 3 triple-doubles.

What makes Westbrook’s triple-double numbers even more incredible is that he has recorded the majority of them in a short span of time. He has recorded 7 triple-doubles in the Thunder’s last 14 games, and after having what was originally ruled a triple-double in Sunday’s game, be ruled one rebound shy on Monday night, he sits one triple-double shy of his 10th of the season.

With 11 games remaining in the regular season, Westbrook should easily lock down at least one more triple-double on his resume. If he is able to do so, he will become the first player in the NBA to record at 10 or more triple-doubles in a season since Jason Kidd accomplished the feat in 2007-08. No player, outside of Kidd, has recorded 10+ triple-doubles in a season since Grant Hill did so in the 1996-97 season.

When taking into account Westbrook’s accomplishments this season as a whole- his personal statistics, as well as what he has meant to the Thunder- he clearly has to be considered for the NBA MVP. And it’s hard to argue against him being the favorite with just a few weeks remaining in the regular season.