Russell Westbrook, Mark Cuban And What It Takes To Be MVP

This year’s NBA MVP race is shaping up to be between two candidates, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. However, Mark Cuban thinks otherwise.

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Cuban is the NBA’s most outspoken owner, but, contrary to some others, Cuban is competent. I’d say that 98 percent of what comes out of his mouth is either correct or thought-provoking; the kind of comment that make you step back and say, “wait a minute, does he have a point?” On Sunday, ahead of the Dallas Mavericks’ game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Cuban got asked where Russell Westbrook is in the MVP race.

“He’s not,” said Cuban according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. The billionaire said James Harden and LeBron James are the two leaders, with Kawhi Leonard deserving consideration as well. If you asked 10 objective people, eight of them would have either Harden or Westbrook bringing home the MVP, the other two would lean toward LeBron or Kawhi, and that’s okay.

This ruffles more feathers than usual because this is the second time within the last 18 months that Cuban has gone against the grain when giving an opinion centered on Westbrook. Last year, he wasn’t sold on the fact that Russ was a superstar because he doesn’t think he’d be able to lead a team to 50 wins by himself, a number that warrants superstardom in Cuban’s eyes.

Also Read: Mark Cuban doesn’t think Westbrook is a superstar

If Cuban already doesn’t see Westbrook as a superstar, why would he pick him as an MVP candidate? Although you may disagree, it’s an interesting take and, most importantly, it’s consistent.

The MVP race is such a difficult thing. Combining a team’s success and a player’s workload for that team is usually the formula that wins. Of course, mistakes are made — Steve Nash over Shaquille O’Neal in 2005; Karl Malone over Michael Jordan in 1997; Derrick Rose over James in 2011.

My MVP this year is James Harden, but by no means is it a landslide. His numbers are incredible, and the Houston Rockets are blasting through the regular season at a pace nobody expected. On the flip side, I don’t think it’ll be a robbery if Westbrook, James or Leonard bring home the award.

But Cuban does raise an intriguing thesis by excluding Westbrook. The Thunder are on pace to finish with 45 or 46 wins, and that would put them at seventh overall in the West if each team continued on their pace. That will likely not happen. Just four games separate the seventh seed from the fourth, and just 2.5 are between the fifth and seventh.

The last player to win MVP while on a team that won fewer than 50 games was Moses Malone in 1982. Houston won 46 that year.

Westbrook puts up bonkers numbers on a nightly basis and Cuban made sure to acknowledge that, and it’s necessary for Russ to explode each night for the Thunder to win. We’ve seen this before with James when he was in Cleveland for the first time. Those teams were terrible. This Thunder squad has more reliable weapons than any of James’ teams; Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter off the bench is a better complementary trio than Mo Williams, Delonte West and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. (Williams had a great year, but no team is winning with him as their second option.)

Those three were LeBron’s best teammates on the 2008–09 team that won 66 games and finished with the best record in the NBA. Furthermore, they weren’t even the best team — on paper — in the conference. Boston had Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, and the Magic had a surprisingly spectacular group centered around Dwight Howard, and they were the ones to down the Cavaliers in the Conference Finals.

Also Read: Was LeBron James robbed of the 2011 MVP?

I can already hear the internet yelling at me: I agree that Russell Westbrook and LeBron James are not the same players.

Oklahoma City should be better than they are. If they’re able to finish in the fourth or fifth seed, then I could see the Westbrook for MVP argument picking up a ton of steam quickly. Should they end the year at the six, seven or eight spot, the MVP needs to be given to a player on one of the top four teams.

It’s possible that if James and Cavs don’t finish at the top of their conference in 2009, he doesn’t win the award. Kobe Bryant would’ve gotten a lot more consideration since he led a 65-win Lakers team. The third-leading vote getter, Dwyane Wade, finished with seven first-place votes after one of the greatest all-around seasons ever: 30.2 points, 7.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 2.2 steals a night. It’s not a triple-double, but Wade became just the second player to average 30–7–5–2 for an entire campaign. Miami finished with 43 wins.

I’m going to take this a little deeper. When Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double in 1961–62, he finished third in the MVP voting, and the Cincinnati Royals had just 43 wins. Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell were ahead of the Big O, and they led their teams to 49 and 60 wins, respectively.

Typically, MVP conversations involve the argument about how much worse a team would be without their candidate. Taking Harden off Houston, LeBron off Cleveland Westbrook of Oklahoma City, whose drop-off is the most significant and flamboyant?

I’d like to see the NBA revamp the process and wait until the conclusion of the postseason. It’s the “Most Valuable Player” award, not the “Player Who’s The Most Valuable During The Regular Season” award. More times than not, someone’s greatness is based on what they do come April, May and June; that’s when guys rise to another level and prove what they mean to their franchises.

Cuban’s comments don’t discredit anything Russ has done and how much he means to the Thunder. Instead, it sheds light on the criteria for MVP. How much should you weigh the numbers if the success of the team doesn’t equate?


This post first appeared on thebasketballnetwork.com.