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Westbrook’s case for MVP

41 triple-doubles and counting for Russell Westbrook. The talking heads around the NBA still cannot make up their minds on who they want to be the NBA’s MVP.

We here at Thunder Digest think the choice is obvious: Russell Westbrook.

What goes into deciding who’s going to be MVP? Is it value to a team? Is it the league’s best player? Is it the best player one of the best teams? There’s a stat and an argument for either Westbrook or James Harden. It really depends on how you want to spin it. Is it the best player on one of the better teams award? Then it could be Harden’s.

However, if you break it down, Westbrook and the Thunder have 45 wins. That’s 10th best in the NBA. Why should the 10th most wins be really that much different than the third most wins? If we’re going to equate it to that, then this is really a team award. Let’s sit back and name it the Most Valuable Team award.

This is a personal award and while I think everyone can concede the player should be on a playoff team, are you really going to punish Westbrook for the shortcomings of his teammates? I don’t think so. The Rockets are probably a playoff team without Harden, the Thunder are not.

The on-off win pace for the four major candidates adds perspective. To calculate win pace, Dan Feldman of NBC Sports used Pythagorean win percentage multiplied by 82, the number of games in a standard NBA schedule.

As you can see, the Rockets still are a 51-win team without Harden. Without Westbrook, the Thunder drop to a sub 20-win team. Westbrook’s value to the Thunder equates to 34 more wins. Only LeBron James (42) is more impactful as the lead man.

Why do you reward Harden for having better teammates and shooting more threes? Mike D’Antoni’s system is set up for the point guard to thrive in the system. He was the head coach when Steven Nash won back-to-back MVPs. With years gone by, it’s been questioned if Nash deserved that award or if the credit should go solely to the system. Do Ryan Anderson, Lou Williams and Eric Gordon mean Harden is the MVP? Then, like I said, let’s make this a team award.

When James was busying winning MVPs in a four out of five year pace, it was understood that voters would eventually start choosing other players out of sheer boredom. That’s why some think Derrick Rose won his MVP in 2010-11.

Many see three players as the league’s best player: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry. James is in the MVP discussion, but do we give it to him just because many think he’s the current day Michael Jordan? Do we give it to Curry because he’s been the best player over the last couple seasons? Or do we give it to Kevin Durant because he’s the best player on the league’s best team (see our previous point, too).

All of the above is no. This isn’t a team award. It’s the current best player of this season.

Westbrook’s season has been far and away better than anyone else, and that includes Harden. 41 triple-doubles. 60 double-doubles. 45 wins with no other All-Star while Oklahoma City is continuing to rebound with what transpired over the summer. When we look at the advance stats that all the other stat gurus love, Westbrook is head and shoulders above Harden. His triple-double average is something that is comparable to hitting .400 in a MLB season.

It’s easy to say LeBron takes off due to his older body frame and Harden is recovering from a wrist injury. Westbrook doesn’t take days off. He doesn’t take games off. He plays 100 mph every game, every play. The Thunder would be a fringe playoff team without him doing so. His statistical line shows that as much. When you break it all down, Westbrook is better than Harden. He has more rebounds and points. He is second in assists. He surrenders less turnovers per game and registers more triple-doubles.

Here are the comparable lines after the All-Star break:

Russell Westbrook
33.8 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 11.3 APG, 43.8%-36.4%-87.7%

James Harden
29.1 PPG, 7. 5 RPG, 10.9 APG, 44.1%-32%-84.2%

Another stat to consider is the turnover percentage, or TOV%. TOV% is estimated percentage of turnovers per 100 players. It allows the factoring in of usage. While Harden’s 5.8 turnovers and Westbrook’s 5.4 turnovers per game are high — in fact, both players are No. 1 and No. 2 for single season turnovers — you may think Westbrook and Harden are careless with the ball. Harden is 42nd with 19.2 percent and Westbrook is 106th at 15.9 percent. Westbrook and Harden, despite the high per game numbers, handle a great deal. Yet Westbrook takes care of the ball considerably better than Harden. Also more to consider, the Thunder’s three-point shooting compared to the Rockets isn’t close.

The Rockets take and make more threes than anyone right now it seems. We saw a couple of weeks ago as they caught fire and thumped Oklahoma City. The Thunder rely on Westbrook more than we would like to admit. However Westbrook has shot the three at a career high clip.

After the win against Memphis. Westbrook is shooting 34.7 percent from three. He’s a career 30 percent shooter. Harden is a 37 percent career shooter from three-point range, but is currently sitting at 34.5 percent — his career low. That’s a measly 0.2 percent, but is is another piece of evidence that slides into Westbrook’s favor as you expect Harden to make those threes.

Westbrook’s triple-doubles are in a league of their own. Harden has 20 triple-doubles, Westbrook has 41. Westbrook has 20 triple-doubles in his last 29 games. Through his greatness, Westbrook has normalized the triple-double. Oklahoma City is 32-9 when Westbrook registers double-digit numbers in three categories, while Harden is only 15-5. If Harden was on Westbrook’s triple-double pace, the Rockets would be 31-10.

We haven’t even began to talk about his average of a triple-double, which hasn’t been done in over half a century. It was done pre-merger, with a third more possessions per game. Not to mention with less teams to compete against. 41 triple-doubles. Averaging a triple-double for the season and leading his team without a former MVP to the playoffs is enough to win the season’s best player award.

If people can stop looking at Westbrook from 2011 and realize that this is a grown man who’s matured and knows how to lead this team, we will see come June, Westbrook accepting an award. Oklahoma City can become the eighth team to have multiple players win MVP.

It is really simple. He deserves it more.

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