By Alex Kurtz Sports Editor
The NBA regular season is on its last stages, and the MVP race has begun to light up in the past weeks. For months, Russell Westbrook, the star point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder was in the lead, but players such as James Harden and LeBron James have narrowed the race to the point where the award could go to any of the three. Kobe Bryant even said in a recent interview: “We might see our first co-MVPs this year.”
However, I think that the race is clear-cut. Russell Westbrook is the MVP of the league.
On March 29, Westbrook dropped 57 points in a win against the Orlando Magic, setting the NBA record for most points scored during a triple-double, beating Harden’s record that was set this season on Dec. 31.
This is Westbrook’s second time this season scoring 50 points with a triple-double. He also scored 19 points of those points in the fourth quarter and hit the game-tying three to complete a 21-point comeback and send the game into overtime, where the Thunder came out with a 114-108 victory.
As if that was not impressive enough, in the final 7:45 of regulation plus overtime, Westbrook scored 26 of those points on 11-20 shooting and had seven rebounds and three assists.
“These numbers are crazy. These are video game-like numbers,” former Orlando Magic player Dennis Scott said.
Westbrook is three triple-doubles shy of tying the single-season record for triple-doubles at 41, which was set in the 1961-1962 season by NBA legend Oscar Robinson. A 55-year-old record, which was considered unbreakable for a long time, is now close to being possibly shattered.
Meanwhile, he is also averaging a triple-double on the season, with 31.8 points per game, 10.6 rebounds per game and 10 assists per game as of March 30.
“This guy’s playing historical basketball,” NBA great Shaquille O’Neal said. “This [averaging a triple-double] has never been done before. Excuse me, hasn’t been done in a long time.”
Robinson is currently the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double in a season, which was done in the 1961-62 season. Westbrook has all but locked down joining him on that list. On March 29, ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton’s projection system calculated that Westbrook has a 99.9 percent chance of finishing the season averaging a triple-double.
Despite these monster stats, one of the big arguments for Harden, which is causing a lot of the controversy, is that Westbrook’s team is much worse. Houston, Harden’s team, is currently 51-23, while the Thunder are 43-31.
While the Rockets have no other star power other than Harden, they have a solid core lineup. They have veterans like Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Lou Williams and Patrick Beverly on top of Sam Dekker, who is one of the best younger players in the league from last year’s draft class.
The Thunder, while having some solid players as well like Victor Oladipo, Enes Kanter and Taj Gibson, are not as good of a roster as the Rockets.
Unfortunately, most league MVPs come from a team that is high on top of the standings in their conference, like the past two years when Golden State’s Steph Curry won the MVP award, and Houston sits in third in the Western Conference currently.
This argument is bogus however. The award is not great player on the best team; it is most valuable player, as in most valuable to the team. Without Westbrook, the Thunder would not be in playoff consideration at all and would be a dumpster-fire in the Western Conference, while the Rockets probably would be in, as they have much more depth on their roster.
“Russell has turned that corner, where he has to play this way every night so his team can win,” Scott said.
Not only that, but Westbrook is also playing the first season of his career without Kevin Durant, is playing better than ever and is leading a team of alright players to the playoffs almost single-handedly.
In my mind, this race is as clear as it gets. Russell Westbrook is the MVP of the 2016-2017 NBA season, and my opinion stands firm no matter what the beard does at this point.