You heard it here last
If you haven’t been watching the NBA this season, I’ll try to catch you up. The Spurs are (yet again) one of the best teams in the league, and their star Kawhi Leonard is one of the best offensive and defensive players in the league.
The Warriors, despite losing Kevin Durant to injury likely until the playoffs, are neck and neck with the Spurs in the Western Conference, mostly thanks to numerous solid performances from two-time reigning MVP Steph Curry. The Houston Rockets are a solid third out West, behind scorer-turned point guard James Harden, who has embraced this new role and become a scoring-assisting machine.
The Cavaliers, behind another brilliant season from Lebron James, lead the way out East. Close on their heels are the Boston Celtics (behind a breakout season by Isaiah Thomas) and the Washington Wizards (behind invariably-underrated John Wall).
I only bring up the top three teams in each conference for a reason: In the past 30+ years, all NBA MVPs have come from a top three team. To top that off, about two thirds of them have come from first-seeded teams.
While winning is the ultimate goal in sports, I would argue that it isn’t the best measure of a single player’s success. The MVP award is meant to go to the best individual player over the course of the season.
And no individual is playing anywhere near the level of Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.
Box scores and advanced statistics demonstrate his value to the Thunder, but fail to fully quantify just how well he has been playing this season.
To really understand just how valuable he is to the Thunder, you have to watch him play, and pay attention when he takes a break.
When he’s on the floor, the Thunder are explosive. Their offense is dynamic. Their defense is stout. They seem like one of the best teams in the league.
When he sits down, the team falls apart. Their offense is stagnant. Their defense seems confused. The players look dejected. You can see the stress in everyone’s eyes just hoping to hold the other team off until he returns to the game.
No other team experiences this kind of shift when their best player is off the floor.
In addition to just how valuable he is in game, Westbrook is deserving of the award for the way he conducts himself outside of games.
He spends an immense amount of time in the gym, he treats practice as though it were the fourth quarter of a playoff games and he shows up to arenas long before any of his teammates to warm up for every single game (yes, Westbrook has yet to miss a single game this season).
This summer, when Durant left, Westbrook was faced with a choice. His contract only had a year left. He owed nothing more to Oklahoma City, and far fewer people would have blamed him for leaving after losing the only teammate he had who could take weight off his shoulders.
But he chose to stay. He chose to extend his contract before it was even up. He decided to sacrifice a chance to win now for a chance to build a new Thunder team.
That’s why he’s the most valuable. He matters more to the Thunder than any other candidate does to their team. And the Thunder matter more to him than any team does to any other candidate.
It's unlikely that the decisions made by MVP voters will reflect my sentiment. But I encourage you to watch what few games remain for Westbrook this year.
Seasons like his don’t come around very often.
Tyler Dean is a junior studying business administration.