NBA MVP: By Definition, Should Russell Westbrook Win The Award?

Mar 26, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) dribbles the ball during the third quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 26, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) dribbles the ball during the third quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

One of the two men in this picture will almost certainly be crowned as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. However, if Westbrook wins the award, how will it be defined in the future?

Russell Westbrook is having one of the best seasons that anyone has had in professional basketball ever. He’s averaging a triple-double and has matched Oscar Robertson’s once insurmountable record of 41 triple-doubles in a single season.

In fact, Robertson himself deemed Westbrook the ‘triple-double king.’

James Harden has also had a superb campaign that will accompany Westbrook’s stellar season in basketball lore. Harden himself is two rebounds per game shy of averaging a triple-double. The Beard has had himself almost as good of a season as Westbrook has. They are both arguably the NBA’s best at their respective positions.

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In the NFL, great players on great teams typically win the MVP award. Last season, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady were the two finalists, and the dueled it out in one of the most dramatic Super Bowls of all-time. In other words, the two finalists were not only great players but they also led their respective teams to the final stage of the playoffs.

However, whereas Westbrook’s Thunder sit in sixth place in the Western Conference, Harden’s Rockets sit in third. Isaiah Thomas, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have also taken their teams to the top tier of their conferences. Westbrook has not. 

So here’s the question: just how important is winning in the MVP conversation?

Why is Winning Important?

Everyone knows that Oscar Robertson had a ridiculous 41 triple-doubles during the 1961-62 season. And as ridiculous as his numbers were, for that generation and even now, he still fell short of winning the MVP award that season.

The winner of the 1961-62 MVP award was Bill Russell. That season, he averaged 19 points and 23 rebounds per game. The runner up was Wilt Chamberlain, who scored a ridiculous 50 points per game and 25 rebounds. Oscar Robertson came in third place behind those two.

As ridiculous as The Big O’s numbers were (and Wilt’s too), neither one won the NBA MVP award. Bill Russell, the winner, had impressive numbers that year, although those numbers were inferior to Wilt and The Big O. That year, Bill Russell’s Celtics won the NBA title. Now, what does that show about the value of the MVP award? It shows that success as a team is just as important as success as an individual.

Now, back to the 21st century, look at Russell Westbrook with all that in mind. What Russell Westbrook has done this season is absolutely ridiculous statistically. Nobody can argue that, just as nobody could argue Robertson’s statistical prowess. However, sitting at sixth in the Western Conference, the Thunder as a team have not achieved enough for their star player to win the MVP award.

As amazing as Westbrook has been all year long, the Thunder simply aren’t winning (enough). Don’t blame that on their supporting cast as last year, fans praised their bench and other starters other than Durant. Nothing much has changed, as Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott came in. And by the way, the loss of Durant has created opportunities for other players who have stepped up by the way.

To go along with Westbrook’s 32 points per game, Victor Oladipo drops 16, Steven Adams and Taj Gibson score nine, Enes Kanter adds 14 and Doug McDermott pockets nine. The argument that Westbrook has no help isn’t valid.

To win the NBA MVP, the player must have success individually and as a team. Bill Russell won the MVP while achieving statistical success as an individual and also by winning. Russell Westbrook simply has not. Give him every individual award, because he has unquestionably earned them. However, this award in particular involves more than just individual success. It is meant to go to the most valuable player to the most successful team.

Look around the league right now and you’ll see plenty of players around the NBA who fit this bill. You’ll see Isaiah Thomas, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden and LeBron James all fit the bill. They all have put up big numbers and they win. They are all in the top three in their respective conference standings and they also are playing very well.

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The NBA MVP award should go to one of those four men because their teams are successful and their services are essential to their team. While Westbrook may be essential to his team, deeming the sixth seed successful is a stretch.