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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The MVP Voters Got it Right

The NBA regular season MVP voters got it right, honoring Russell Westbrook for his historic season during which he joined Oscar Robertson as the only two players to average a triple double. Westbrook received 69 of 101 first-place votes and 888 total points. James Harden finished a distant second with 22 first place votes and 753 total points. Kawhi Leonard (500 points, nine first place votes) and LeBron James (333 points, one first place vote) are the only other players who received at least one first place vote.

It can legitimately be argued that LeBron James is a better basketball player than Russell Westbrook but--in terms of performance during the 2016-17 regular season--Westbrook was clearly the NBA's best player. Westbrook won his second scoring title (career-high 31.6 ppg), he ranked third in assists (10.4 apg) and he finished 10th in rebounding (10.7 rpg, an unprecedented average for a 6-3 point guard). Westbrook tallied three 50 point triple doubles, setting both the single season and career records in that category.

Westbrook's amazing individual numbers directly correlated with his team's success. He broke Oscar Robertson's single season record by notching 42 triple doubles and the Oklahoma City Thunder went 33-9 in those games, compared to 14-26 in the remaining games; a 33-9 record projects to 64-18 over a full 82 game season, while 14-26 projects to 29-53. Essentially, when Westbrook played at a historically great level he elevated the Thunder to elite status but when he was "merely" good the Thunder were the equivalent of a Draft Lottery team. The Thunder's relative performance when Westbrook was on the court compared to when he was off the court told the same story: with Westbrook on the court, this flawed roster could compete with just about anyone but take Westbrook out of the game and the Thunder morphed into the league's worst team by far.

As the statistics cited above demonstrate, objectively the MVP race was never close but, for those who had any lingering doubts, Westbrook wrapped up the MVP award with a sizzling closing stretch that included a historic triple double.

Westbrook carried the Thunder to the sixth seed in the always competitive Western Conference and he put up mind-boggling numbers in the first round of the playoffs (37.4 ppg, 11.6 rpg and 10.8 apg) but the Thunder collapsed every time he left the court, enabling the Houston Rockets to prevail four games to one. The Thunder's total dependence on Westbrook--and Houston's ability to thrive even when Harden was not on the court--further established that Westbrook is indeed worthy of being recognized as the league's Most Valuable Player.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:18 PM