The 2016-17 season has truly been a year of individual greatness, but only three players considered MVP worthy: Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Kawhi Leonard. All three of these players are of the utmost value to their teams but one of them is the sole reason why their team is even relevant in the NBA, and that player is Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook.
It’s a fact that Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double this season which is a huge accomplishment, but it’s one of many reasons why Westbrook should be the MVP. Westbrook went from having 3 other all stars on his team to having his second-best player being Steven Adams. The fact that the Thunder made it into the playoffs in a tough Western Conference at all is a miracle.
In the 2010-11 NBA season the Thunder had a record of 55-27 with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and James Harden on the team. Now in the 2016-17 season the Thunder had a 47-35 (only 8 wins away from their 2010-11 season). The loss of James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Serge Ibaka only resulted in 8-less wins. Granted all four of those players were young and inexperienced, but the raw talent was still there. Ultimately that team that had two MVP caliber players skip town leaving Westbrook to pick up the pieces.
Harden was blessed to come to a team that was able to build a supporting cast around him. Westbrook had to take on the sidekick role when Harden left so the team could run smoothly with Durant at the helm. After the sudden departure of Durant last off-season, the Thunder had to go into scramble mode and try to build a makeshift team that could compete in the west. Now that they have an off-season to reflect, the Thunder may look to obtain some top-tier shooters this off-season to help Westbrook.
This leaves the last MVP finalist, Kawhi Leonard. Leonard is arguably the best two-way player in the world but that doesn’t mean he deserves an MVP trophy. I am not saying Kawhi is not a great player, but there are other players in the NBA (Lebron James) whom are more dominant at his position. Lebron James averaged 1 point more than Kawhi, 5.2 more assists than Kawhi, and 2.8 more rebounds than Kawhi. This proves that some fan bias can come into mind when naming MVP finalist. The San Antonio Spurs finished the season with a 61-21 record (12 more wins than the Thunder) which shows that Kawhi had a better team than Russell Westbrook.
The way the final MVP vote came down was taking the candidate off their respective teams and seeing what would be left. If you take James Harden off his team you would have a potential 8-seed. The Houston Rockets would still have Patrick Beverly, Eric Gordon, Nene, and many more role players. If you take Kawhi off the Spurs they would have an all-star power forward in LaMarcus Aldridge with plenty of NBA veterans and a Hall of Fame coach in Gregg Popovich. Now say Russell Westbrook is taken off the Thunder. The starting lineup would be made up of Semaj Christion, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson, Taj Gibson, and Steven Adams. The Thunder would be abysmal and at the bottom of the Western Conference.
Russell Westbrook deserves nothing less than to be named MVP of the NBA. It’s not taking anything away from any other player in the running, but Westbrook showed up night in and night out putting everything he had into each game. Westbrook understands that without him the Thunder don’t win, but that’s all the more reason for him to bring home the MVP trophy.