Let me start with a disclaimer: I think Russell Westbrook is amazing at basketball and I love watching him play the game. I can think that and also think that he shouldn’t be the MVP this year, correct? After yet another embarrassing defeat at the hands of Golden State last night, I can give you one credible reason why.
The MVP Award Is Really Confusing
Because there are at least four realistic candidates for MVP this season, making the award more confusing than ever before. Based on the varying criteria that the vagueness of the ‘Most Valuable Player Award’ allows for, at minimum you have Westbrook, James Harden, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard in contention. These are all different players with different skill sets who have accomplished different things this year.
How do you decide how to weigh all of that when deciding who gets the award?
An MVP Criterion I Created Specifically For This Post
In simple terms, it’s how well you perform in big games. I realize that sounds lame that way, so I can make a longer definition as well. To me, the league’s Most Valuable Player should be someone that gives his team a realistic chance to beat any team on any night. How can a player be the Most Valuable if he can’t beat the other players competing against him for the same award? I understand the variables involved, with quality of teammates and systems and all that, but an MVP’s team should be able to beat any team on any night. That’s just how I feel, and I’m entitled to that. So.
Russell Westbrook Is Not As Good Against Other Elite Players
Against the other three genuine MVP candidates, plus the Warriors because in any normal year both Steph Curry and Kevin Durant could easily win the MVP and they are still the team by which all others are measured, Westbrook’s stats take a turn:
TOTALS: 34.8 minutes, 31.7/10.5/10.3, 5.4 TOs, 42.0% FG, 3.4 Net Rating, 40-29 record
vs. HOU: 36.4 minutes, 35.3 /8.3/ 8.0, 6.3 TOs, 41.8% FG, 5.4 Net Rating, 1-2 record
vs. SAS: 34.4 minutes, 25.0/9.5/13.5, 4.5 TOs, 36.8% FG, 15.3 Net Rating, 1-1 record
vs. CLE: 35.9 minutes, 24.5/12.0/10.5, 5.5 TOs, 34.0% FG, -14.5 Net Rating, 1-1 record
vs. GSW: 32.1 minutes, 27.3/10.0/9.5, 8.0 TOs, 37.5% FG, -26.1 Net Rating, 0-4 record
Against the main title contenders, his performance suffers, and his team’s performance follows. The counting stats dip below triple double levels while playing more minutes. The turnovers are generally up, the shooting percentage generally down. And most importantly, that 3-8 record sticks out.
Winning isn’t the most important factor in MVP voting, but it’s certainly somewhat important. Russ just hasn’t figured that part out against the best teams this year. OKC’s four Warriors losses are by a total of 79 points. It’s a downright massacre. It’s possible these teams could meet in the first round; if the season series was a playoff series it would be one of the most vicious sweeps of all time.
It’s more even against the other good teams, but that number is tough to ignore. If Chris Paul or Blake Griffin had stayed healthy this year, I wouldn’t include them in MVP talks because of their (even more drastic, at -86) helplessness against Golden State. Four games alone from those two or Westbrook aren’t deciding my choice for MVP, it’s just a mark on record that’s too big to ignore.
He’s Still Really Good, Though
I reiterate, please don’t confuse this as Russell hate. I love the dude. But based on how I view the MVP award, I don’t think he should receive it. If you disagree with me, that’s cool. He’s an exceptional basketball players, and you may view the award differently than I. That’s the beauty and the chaos inherently built into the award. Is it purposefully vague so as to leave room for debate and internet posts like this one? Possibly. If so, it’s working.
The MVP award has never been so maddening, yet never so fun, either. I still have no idea who should win the award. I’ll happily debate it with anyone. I’m just fairly certain it shouldn’t be Russell Westbrook.
*All stats via nba.com/stats