The 28-year-old plays like a man who won’t be denied, so it’s fitting he’s put together a tour de force season that makes it difficult to deny him the MVP either.
In any other year, Westbrook’s case wouldn’t even be up for discussion, but because this campaign has seen several players have career seasons and perform at such high levels, we’re somehow left deliberating whether a man averaging 31.9 points, 10.4 assists and 10.7 rebounds has been the best player.
Or, it should be clarified, the player who has produced the most this season. The title of best basketball player is already held in a vice-like grip by LeBron James. But there’s a reason why James doesn’t win MVP and Gregg Popovich doesn’t earn Coach of the Year every season – they’re season awards, not generational honours.
And yet, James is still in the discussion due to the monster 2016-17 he’s had, along with other top candidates James Harden and Kawhi Leonard. You could hand the MVP to any of the four and be justified, but it’s become harder and harder to look past Westbrook.
In theory, it’s weird not to have your MVP picked out this late into the season, as if a handful of games will make a difference on a year-long award. But that’s how difficult it’s been to distinguish one MVP frontrunner from the other.
Any voter that was left undecided, however, has likely been swayed by Westbrook’s tidal wave during this month, which has included him locking up the first triple-double average for a season since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62, before breaking the Big O’s record for most triple-doubles in a campaign.
Westbrook not only set the mark though, but did it in spectacular, storybook fashion by knocking down a 36-footer at the buzzer to eliminate the Denver Nuggets from playoff contention and cap off a jaw-dropping stat line of 50 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists.
Forget the triple-doubles for a second and eliminate all the rebounds he’s grabbing – which could be considered ‘stat padding’ or inconsequential – and you still have to marvel at the fact he’s scored 40 points or more while dishing at least nine assists four times in the past seven games.
Meanwhile, James’ Cavaliers have continued to struggle post All-Star break, Harden’s efficiency has dipped and Leonard has remained, well, Leonard. If this was a horse race, Westbrook would be pulling ahead in the home stretch by a head.
Individual play isn’t the only factor though and Harden has somewhat of a point in saying: “I thought winning is what this is about – period.”
The irony behind Harden’s comment is that while it appeared aimed at Westbrook, it strengthens Leonard’s case, with the Spurs winners of 60-plus games and above Houston in the standings.
But winning is also what Westbrook has done, almost single=handedly, in carrying Oklahoma City to the playoffs after the departure of one of the five best players in the world in Kevin Durant. The minus-13.1 net rating difference when Westbrook plays and is off the court speaks for itself.
When we look back at this season, there’s no single player we’ll remember more than Westbrook. The definitive MVP case is being on the right side of history.