Russell Westbrook is the rightful MVP
Sunday afternoon, with most of the attention of the sports world focused on Sergio Garcia winning his first major title at The Masters, Russell Westbrook wrote his own name into the history books.
Westbrook earned his 42nd triple-double of the season, breaking the NBA record for most triple-doubles recorded in a single season set by Oscar Robertson.
Robertson set his triple-double mark in 1961–62, when the NBA played at a swift pace in which players racked up ostentatious stats much easier than today. This was the same season that Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game.
The average NBA team had 126.2 possessions per game in 1961–62, per Adam Mares of The Sports Daily. Westbrook’s Thunder is more than 25 possessions off that rate this season, according to NBA.com.
The triple-doubles are fun. They’re sexy. They’re historic.
However, they aren’t the reason Russell Westbrook should win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award. Westbrook should win the MVP because he’s a cold-blooded killer.
On Friday, Westbrook recorded his 820th assist of the season, making him the second player in the history of basketball to average a triple-double over the course of a season (since Robertson in 1961–62). On Sunday, Russ broke The Big O’s record by dropping 50 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists on the Denver Nuggets.
Oh, and he hit a game-winning 3-pointer from near half-court to eliminate Denver from the playoffs.
Russell Westbrook’s real MVP case lies in his ability to single-handedly carry Oklahoma City to nail-biting wins.
The National Basketball Association defines ‘clutch time’ as the last five minutes of game where the score differential between the two teams is less than five points. Under those circumstances, Westbrook had 241 points heading into Sunday. That mark was overwhelmingly the best in the league. Isaiah Thomas was a whole 16 field goals (80 to 64) and 18 points behind Russ. №3 on the list, Damian Lillard, was 58 points back.
You can manipulate the time-and-score stipulations of said scenario however you’d like, and the name at the top of the list never changes. Westbrook ranks №1 in all seven time categories (Last 5 minutes, 4, 3, 2, 1, 30 seconds, 10 seconds).
But it’s not just about scoring. ESPN.com’s Royce Young passed along some crunch-time numbers on Thursday night via Twitter.
Russell Westbrook crunch-time stats:
241 points (1st in NBA)
80 FGM (1st in NBA)
18 3-pointers (t-2nd in NBA)
28 assists (4th in NBA)
11 steals (t-2nd in NBA)
147 minutes (25th in NBA)
The arguments for Westbrook MVP opposers are simple:
1) If his team was better, they wouldn’t be in so many close games.
The Thunder actually aren’t in close games as often as it seems. Westbrook ranks 26th in clutch minutes at 147. His numbers are not simply a result of excessive opportunity.
2) He shoots more than anyone, of course he scores a lot.
While he does rank first with 181 shot attempts and usage — a whopping 62.0 percent, dwarfing all others but Harden’s 51 — Russ is also №1 in assist percentage (58.3 percent) with a 56.4 true shooting percentage.
Westbrook’s assist percentage is on pace to place third all-time behind two of John Stockton’s best seasons.
Even the most determined Harden/Leonard/James for MVP supporter couldn’t knock this number from ESPN Research Specialist Micah Adams, though Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript provided some context:
Michael Jordan’s PER in the clutch in the 1996 and 1997 NBA Finals was 40.9 (includes flu game, shot over Russell, etc.)
Russell Westbrook’s PER this regular season is over 50.
Westbrook has 99 more clutch-time points than Harden, and has 9 more assists in 19 more minutes. Westbrook +80, Harden -21.
It’s also notable that both Westbrook and Harden have played in 39 games featuring these clutch situations.
All of this cold-blooded data isn’t empty. It’s led directly to wins. NewsOK’s Jenni Carlson highlighted some of Russ’ recent heroics, even before Sunday’s explosion.
“As good as [Westbrook’s] been in clutch situations throughout the season, he’s actually gotten better as this season has progressed. Before the first weekend of January, the Thunder had won only four games in Westbrook’s entire career when he attempted a shot when the score was within three points or less in the last 10 seconds of a game. Since then, it has won three games when that happens.”
The raw numbers aren’t always easily digestible, so let’s break them down even further by looking at a few individual games where Russ crushed the spirits of opposing teams in the final moments.
On January 23, Westbrook scored 11 of Oklahoma City’s final 13 points and drilled a buzzer-beater from the elbow to crush the spirits of the Utah Jazz. The two of the 13 points not scored by Westbrook came on a Steven Adams dunk…which came from a Russell Westbrook assist.
“Westbrook made a great shot and showed who he is,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder told the media, via Deseret News’ Mike Sorensen.
Then, on the final day of February, Westbrook again single-handedly took down the Jazz after scoring on five straight possessions in the final two minutes of OKC’s 109–106 victory.
“He’s got a great ability as the game’s going on to put whatever’s happened behind him,” head coach Billy Donovan told reporters afterward, per Berry Tramel of NewsOK. “…He’s always playing with a great deal of optimism, a great deal of enthusiasm and a never-say die attitude.”
Oklahoma City was lackluster to say the least for 44 & a half minutes against Dallas on March 27.
What seemed to be a weight attached to the ankles of Westbrook’s MVP hopes quickly turned into a sizable boost. I specifically remember turning the game off, thinking it was out of hand, only to catch the outcome on Twitter.
Trailing by 13 with 3:30 left on the clock, Westbrook exploded for 12 of his team’s next 14 points. He then hit a pull-up game-winner in the face of Wesley Matthews that will probably make Mark Cuban sick for years to come.
“I mean, it’s just awesome seeing it go in,” Steven Adams said, per Royce Young. “We just trust him. His ability to just do the job rather than thinking about the pressure and whatnot, that’s all him.”
Two days after he put on a show against Dallas, Westbrook one-upped himself against the Orlando Magic.
The situation was similar. OKC had played terrible, trailing by 21 points in the third quarter and 14 midway through the fourth. And then Westbrook woke up. His Hail Mary 3-pointer at the buzzer sent the game into overtime, where he reached 57 points, the highest-scoring triple-double effort in NBA history, to give Oklahoma City the 114–106 win.
It was, statistically, one of the best games ever played — 57 points (24-of-40 shooting), 13 rebounds, 11 assists and three steals.
You know the story by now.
OKC was down big. Westbrook decided to change things.
Things were changed.
OKC trailed by 10 with 2:27 left. Westbrook outscored the Nuggets 13–2 on 3–5 shooting, and 6–6 from the line to close the game.
Westbrook had 13 in the last two-and-a-half minutes and hit a game-winning 3 to bring the Thunder back from down double-digits.
There have been five 50-point triple-doubles in NBA history. Russell Westbrook has three of those, and two in the past 11 days.
Russell Westbrook is receiving the Michael Jordan treatment in opposing arenas. Opposing fans are cheering for him. He’s receiving MVP chants at away games. Not even LeBron James receives this treatment. Not because LeBron isn’t great, but because fans realize that they are witnessing history. Russell Westbrook is putting up stat-lines that we haven’t seen in over 50 years. Think about it, since Oscar Robertson did it in 1961, no player has averaged a triple-double. Not Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard or James Harden. Nobody, but Russell Westbrook.
Sure Harden, Leonard and James’ teams have better records. One of their teams, unlike the Thunder, will probably be playing for a title in June. However, what Russell Westbrook has done this season is beyond incredible. We may be witnessing the greatest performance ever by an individual player in a single season, and if that’s not good enough for an MVP award, then I don’t know what is.