Russell Westbrook Should Win – Narrowly

Amidst many thrilling sports stories this year, we now have a stunning competition for the NBA MVP. Watching several future Hall of Famers duke it out – how cool!

I suspect this is not the year for reigning champ, Stephen Curry. Nor will it be for Chris Paul or Kevin Durant, two extraordinary players who’ve been injured for a good part of the year.

John Wall and Isaiah Thomas have been outstanding, but I don’t see them making it to the top tier. Nor will the young stud, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

LeBron James is the best player of the era, no doubt. And, in his 14th season, he has great numbers (26.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 8.7 assists). But the Cavs have not impressed recently, and others have surpassed the King in both performance and leadership.

I love San Antonio and am thrilled at the continuing development of the remarkable Kawhi Leonard. A strong case can be made on his behalf. He’s, without question and by far, the best defender of the bunch, and that should count a lot. His shooting has improved dramatically, and he continues to be exceedingly careful with the ball, with very few turnovers.

But, though they have had a strong and winning season, the Spurs have flagged in important recent games. I simply don’t see Leonard making the difference an MVP should make, at least not this year.

For me, as for most, it comes down to James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Their achievements on the court have made for one of the best MVP competitions in NBA history.

Look at Harden, my oh my. Ask those who have to defend against the Rockets. What do you do when Harden comes at you? The Rockets’ offensive firepower owes most credit to Harden’s rare shooting, passing, and moving skills. He has 29.3 points per game, with 8.1 rebounds and an eye-popping 11.3 assists.

Harden’s shooting efficiency is off the charts. Further, his proponents make a good argument that the Rockets have outperformed expectations in wins, more so than the Thunder. All this makes the case for Harden very strong.

Yet, I think Russell Westbrook – on a close call – deserves the honor.

I put some weight, but not all, on his extraordinary achievement of being the first player to average a triple double during a season since Oscar Robertson did it in 1961-62. Also, I do marvel at his setting the record for triple double games in a season. But that – alone – doesn’t drive my opinion.

Emotionally, I confess to being turned a bit by Westbrook’s scoring 50 points, with a buzzer beater, to win the game in which he set the triple double record. Why? It spoke volumes about the special passion and competitiveness he brings to his play, on behalf of his team, and as the key to Thunder wins.

Has he done more for the Durant-less Thunder than Harden has done for the Rockets? I understand the case here for Harden and the Rockets, but I hold to the opinion that Westbrook has been the greater difference-maker. His contribution has meant more to Thunder wins than Harden’s has to Rockets’ wins (though both are totally off the charts in this respect).

Indeed I feel strongly enough in this respect to believe the Thunder would take down the Rockets, if the two meet in the playoffs. And, part of that calculus is based on the fact that I would take Westbrook against Harden in a face-off of the two great players/leaders.

So, I’m for Westbrook. But I won’t be disappointed if Harden wins.

What I celebrate above all else is that we’ve been blessed with a truly epic competition this year involving a good number of the best players who have ever played the game.