Has Mr. Triple-Double Done Enough to Earn the MVP?
He may not admit it, but when a sold out Chesapeake Energy Arena rose in a roaring applause for their superstar for matching Oscar Robertson’s triple-double record, Russell Westbrook had no choice but to grin and acknowledge the Thunder faithfuls.
On Tuesday night, Russell Westbrook matched ‘The Big O’ with his 41st triple-double of the season, with five games in hand to top the nearly 50-year old record set by the Hall of Fame guard back in the 1961-62 season. Moreover, the Thunder improved to 32-9 in games in which Westbrook has reached the triple-double mark.
Firmly in a playoff spot, the Thunder are still jockeying over positioning and with just five regular season games left, it is fair to ask if Westbrook has done all he could to cement himself as a lock for Most Valuable Player of the Year.
Firstly, all that Westbrook has done this year is average 31.6-points, 10.7-boards, and 10.4-assists away. He just needs 16-assists in his next five games to lock down the second triple-double season in NBA history. If these are the stats that matter, there is simply no competition, and Westbrook has easily locked up the award.
With Westbrook on the floor, the Thunder average over ten more points per 100 possessions than when ‘Brodie’ sits. He leads the league in PER (30.5) and boxscore plus/minus (15.3), and it’s really not even close.
So why can’t we not just hand the award to Westbrook? Dude has been on another level this season.
Now, let me preface this by saying, I love Westbrook, I mean, how can you not? He is an engine that never stops. He is intense, athletic and will run through a wall for his team on any given day. But while I love Westbrook, I also try to not take all of his good and be blinded by his greatness. Enough not to see the negatives that come with Westbrook, of course.
Diving into analytics, Westbrook has contested the fewest amount of three-pointers in the NBA this season. Big men like Rudy Gobert who make a living of protecting the rim have stepped out to defend more threes than Westbrook who seemingly books it to the basket to either pad his stats, or get the rebound for his team. You choice of which notion you wish to side with.
If there is one thing the Thunder have aside from Westbrook, it’s size. Enes Kanter, Steven Adams, newly-acquired Taj Gibson, rookie Domantas Sabonis have all helped contribute to the league’s top offensive rebounding team that is the Oklahoma City Thunder. Westbrook averages only 1.7-offensive rebounds per game, his lowest mark over the past three seasons – somehow, the Thunder survive. One would think the Thunder are well equipped to grab the defensive board even if Westbrook stays on his man and contests more three-pointers.
Simple logic really. If player X puts a hand up on player Y, player Y is more likely to miss a three-pointer. If player Y, who by the way happens to be a professional basketball player, is wide open because player X runs to the basket, well more often than not, player Y will hit the three-pointer, but at the same time, player X will be able to grab two or three extra boards and essentially pad his stats.
Offensively, the Thunder are clearly a tad more challenged. Outside of maybe Victor Oladipo, the Thunder have no body outside of Westbrook who can create their own offence. Sometimes, or too many times, Westbrook tries to create too much for himself and goes outside of his comfort zone.
The NBA isn’t a job application for American Eagle and NBA players aren’t your typical kid who tell their employers they have no problems venturing outside of their comfort zone in an effort to secure the new gig.
Tim Duncan was never a three-point shooter. What did he try to never do? Shoot three-pointers. When NBA players stay in their comfort zones, they help teams win. Westbrook has taken a league-ranked eighth most three-pointers (541) and has made only 184 of them, good for an atrocious 34% clip. For reference, Kyle Lowry has made 185-threes on the season and shoots at a very impressive 41.7% mark.
Let’s look deeper into his shooting. Westbrook has an overall shooting percentage 42.5%. Of all the point guards who have played this season, that ranks Westbrook 47th, slotted around the likes of Raymond Felton and Patrick Beverley. You do not want to be in that company when shooting is confirmed and the issue with Westbrook is, he has taken 403 more shots than the second closest point guard.
Westbrook wastes shots, wastes offensive possessions and ultimately hurts his team. Sure Westbrook can take 40 shots against the Orlando Magic and come back and beat them, simply because he is a superstar, but when he goes up against the likes of Golden State and San Antonio, each possession is so precious and wasting shots will lead to losses.
Sure, Westbrook does not have the same shooters that someone like James Harden has, but Westbrook high turnover percentage and overall aggression often hurts his team more than it helps them, especially against the teams that they have to beat – the games in which MVP cases truly are made.
The Cavaliers cannot win without LeBron James, the Spurs are quietly led by Kawhi Leonard, while James Harden has been extraordinary for the Rockets and is the perfect piece for a Mike D’Antoni offence. What separates someone like James from the pack is that he stays in his comfort zone, and the Cavs are first in the East. James can get triple-doubles in his sleep, but he does what he needs to get the win. Leonard is the leader of the Spurs, a 60-win team. Again, Leonard does what he excels at to help his team win more and something must be said for that.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are 32-9 when Russell gets a triple-double. They are just 12-24 when he does not reach the 10-10-10 mark. Looking at Westbrook’s game logs, even when he doesn’t reach a triple-double, he is more often than not, extremely close. Is being two off in the assists category or sitting at nine rebounds the reason the Thunder cannot win?
We have fallen in love with the triple-double, blinding us from what truly matters in the game of basketball – the wins. So does Westbrook have an MVP case? Sure, but even with 41 triple-doubles, Robertson came third in the 1961-62 Most Valuable Player voting.
Racking up triple-doubles is granted incredibly hard to do. It is the cool stat, but should it be the determining factor for Most Valuable Player?
Just some food for thought.