I don’t know if you have been paying attention to Oklahoma City recently, but they have been balling. And it is not because of regaining MVP Kevin Durant, sidelined again with another foot injury and surgery. No, it had been the explosive point Russell Westbrook, always stuck in the shadow of his teammate, who has not only been keeping the Thunder competitive; he is making OKC unstoppable. Just the other night, Westbrook had 21 points, 17 assists and 8 rebounds in only 27 minutes. He is the first player since Hall-of-Famer Magic Johnson to compile those kind of stats in under 30 minutes of playing time. But my question is, can Westbrook emerge from the shadows of Kevin Durant to steal away the Most Valuable Player award from Kevin Durant? Follow after the break to find out.
Westbrook is currently averaging career highs across the board. He is scoring 26.1 points per game, 8 assists per game and 6.4 rebounds per game with an impressive 29.25 player efficiency rating. In the month of February alone, Westbrook put up 30.6, 10.1 and 7.9, averaging a near triple-double. This is compared to the wide seen favorites to win MVP, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors and James Harden of the Houston Rockets. Curry is averaging 23.6 PPG, 7.9 APG, and 4.7 RBG, with a PER of 27.74. Harden on the other hand has a league leading 27.3 PPG, 6.8 APG, 5.8 RPG and a PER of 27.28.
Both Curry and Harden are the surefire superstars of their respective team, while Westbrook is commonly seen as just a “sidekick” to Kevin Durant. Without Harden or Curry in the starting lineups of their respective teams, neither the Rockets nor the Warriors could ever hope to win a competitive amount of games. And it is widely believed that the Thunder do not necessarily need Westbrook with Durant’s ability to get shots in a hurry, but he is a nice piece to have who offers scoring when the offense looks a little flat. But with Kevin sidelines, Westbrook has emerged as someone who can lead a team to wins on his own, and that is exactly what he has done. After winning MVP at the 2015 All-Star Game, Westbrook launched his full-blown MVP campaign by taking the .500 OKC Thunder and pushing them into the eighth playoff seed in the West with six straight wins. In their last 10 games, the Thunder have won 8 of them.
Westbrook is the MVP candidate that no one is discussing as of right now, and that is because he ranks fourth in plus/minus rating behind Curry, Harden and Pelicans forward Anthony Davis in that order. But if he continues to play at the level the Thunder fans have grown accustom to, Westbrook has the possibility to come out from under Durant and be seen as an equal superstar. Great for Westbrook, who will likely be able to cash in big for his performance. Not so good for GM Sam Presti, who might lose the second best player on his team come the offseason. It would be interesting to see how the rest of the season shapes out. For example, how will the return of Kevin Durant affect the numbers Westbrook is putting up? I don’t think they will diminish by too much, but I don’t know if he can remain in MVP contention without being the primary scorer. But that’s pure speculation. All anyone can possibly know at this point is that the MVP race just got a little more exciting as the second half of the NBA season progresses.