I’ll start this blog by admitting that I am a die hard Warriors fan, and the Warriors and Thunder don’t exactly have the best relationship. That being said, when weighing the options for MVP I tried to completely suspend my bias, and make the most objective decision possible.
Now let’s get into why Russell Westbrook didn’t deserve this seasons NBA MVP award.
In order to fully justify why I think Russ shouldn’t have won the award, we should list the reasons that voters gave him the award in the first place. First, and most obviously, the damn triple doubles.
Brodie was the first player since Oscar Robertson in the 1961-62 season to average a triple double. Which, to be fair to Russ, is a pretty crazy accomplishment (that is, if we’re ignoring how arbitrary a triple double is, but that’s for a different blog). It usually makes sportscenter when a guy just gets one triple double, and to average a triple double over the course of 82 games? Pure bananaland. So, respect to Russ for doing that. For me, however, the nature of those triple doubles, and how they came about, is my biggest reason for why Westbrook doesn’t deserve to be MVP.
Westbrook was blatantly stat-padding throughout the season, with the sole intention of getting a triple double each night. This clip shows a supercut of Westbrook either swooping in to grab boards on free throws, or completely ignoring his defensive assignments to grab a rebound. You will also notice in that clip that Westbrook really doesn’t do much boxing out of his own, instead he makes his centers and power forwards box out for him, and then he jumps in and snatches the ball away from them in order to get better personal stats.
Not only does this stat padding lead to Westbrook averaging just over 10 boards a game instead of something like 7 (which would still be great for a point guard. I’m not saying that Westbrook is a bad rebounder, I’m just saying that his rebounding stats are heavily inflated), but his defense suffers greatly as a result. This leads me to my next point against Westbrook, which is that his defense is simply pitiful. The Harden vs. Westbrook debate raged on throughout the NBA season, and one of the points against Harden was that people thought his defense was simply too weak to warrant an MVP award. This argument, to me at least, was pretty garbage, considering Russ may be one of the worst defenders in the NBA.
Over the course of his MVP season, Westbrook averaged 3.5 contested shots per game on defense (all stats in this article are via stats.nba.com). This is simply a shockingly low number. Russell’s backup, Cameron Payne, averaged 4.1 contested shots per game in half the minutes that Westbrook played. That’s just insane. Russell is intentionally leaving his man open and not contesting shots in order to be in a better position to grab an uncontested rebound.
Let’s put those 3.5 contested shots per game into perspective for a little bit. Westbrook is *dead last* in contested shots among all players averaging 30 or more minutes per game. This basically means that Russell is defending the fewest shots out of any starter or 6th man in the entire NBA.
On average, Westbrook’s opposing point guards shot about 13.1 shots per game. Russ is contesting 3.5 shots per game. This means that the player that Westbrook is defending is shooting about 74% of their shots against him uncontested.
His defensive woes continue to show as we look at some other stats. Russ only contested 127 3 point shots over the course of the entire season. The only point guards to contest fewer 3 point shots were Emmanuel Mudiay, Brandon Jennings, Ty Lawson, and Tony Parker. Mudiay only played 25.6 Minutes Per Game to Russ’ 34.6, so he had far fewer opportunities to defend 3 point shots than Russ did. Jennings is pretty much just regarded as one of the worst defenders in the league, and played 22.2 MPG. Lawson only played in 69 games, and averaged about 10 fewer minutes than Russ, and Tony Parker is 35 and has never been a good defender. Even Nikola Jokic defended more 3’s than Russ did! And Jokic isn’t even a good defensive center!
Another argument people gave for Russ was that he had no help. That he dragged a team full of role players to 45 wins and a playoff berth. The Thunder were built around 2 superstars, and when one of them left, Russ was able to keep the team in the playoffs and out of the NBA’s cellar. We do have to consider, however, *why* Russ had no help.
He drove KD out of town.
One of the things that KD talked about throughout the season was how much he appreciated the Warriors style of play. They played with pace, and they constantly moved the ball around, not letting it get stuck in anyone’s hands. When Durant was in OKC, he and Westbrook essentially just played “my turn your turn” basketball, in which they would trade off possessions going iso. Of course, this worked really well, and they were constantly contenders for the title, but they were never going to get over the hump with this style of play. And this is why Durant left. He wanted to be free from that system, in which he and Westbrook just traded off cooking their defenders. By all accounts, Westbrook had his best personal year this season. But this shows that in order for Westbrook to really thrive (offensively that is) he needs the ball in his hands. Clearly, this style of play wasn’t working for Durant. He didn’t want to play with a point guard that needed to be handling the ball at all times in order to thrive. This is why Durant left the Thunder. The Warriors simply just offered a better fit basketball wise for Durant. Stephen Curry isn’t nearly as ball dominant as Westbrook is (few are), and Durant could play more freely, in an actual offense based off of sets other than iso plays.
Those are my reasons as to why I think Russell Westbrook didn’t deserve to win NBA MVP. His triple doubles were impressive, but largely empty. Grabbing 2-3 more rebounds a game shouldn’t make Russ’ season more impressive than Harden’s, especially considering that Russ was blowing off defensive assignments to get those boards. That being said, Harden’s season wasn’t perfect either, as he turned the ball over at a historic rate, and pretty much flopped his way to all of his free throws. Maybe they should have just given it to Steph again.