Through the first half of the season, the top three players in the race for the NBA MVP Award were Paul George, Kevin Durant and LeBron James. When Russell Westbrook went out with injury and we neared the All-Star Break, Kevin Durant completely took over that category. He went on a monster run that almost seemed impossible. He spent the time Westbrook was out proving to the world that he was capable of winning the MVP over the always-favored LeBron James.
It has sparked into a debate not focused on whether LeBron will stop Durant’s MVP bid, but KD’s own teammate Russell Westbrook. When Russell Westbrook went out due to injury, Durant completely took control of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He led the team in almost everything and led them to a lot of wins. When Durant is playing like he was, not only does he pose as the favorite in the MVP race, but a favorite at winning a Championship. Well, Russell Westbrook made his much anticipated return on February 20 when the Thunder matched up against the Miami Heat. This was a big game for everybody. So, the question remains: Will the return of Russell Westbrook hurt or help Durant’s chances of winning the MVP Award?
Durant Without Russell Westbrook
When Russell Westbrook had arthroscopic surgery after their Christmas Day game against the New York Knicks, Durant did nothing but step up to the plate. He posted absolutely monstrous numbers that never seemed possible to witness. He confused all analysts and fans by increasing both his usage and efficiency, something completely unheard of in basketball. Yes, Durant strived uncontrollably during Westbrook’s absence with the offensive pressure and added ball-handling responsibilities, but it’s not just the play alone that contributes to winning the MVP Award. Another big factor that decides the Most Valuable Player is their ability to help their team win games. There are a lot of big name NBA stars that have phenomenal years and post amazing statistics that never win the MVP award and that is because they don’t win games. For example, Kevin Love. He is a man that has posted unreal stats for years. He has never finished higher than sixth in the voting, though, because the Minnesota Timberwolves have never reached the playoffs in his time there.
I’m not saying that the Thunder can’t win without Russ because they can. And they have, a lot. This season, the Thunder hold a 22-8 record when Westbrook is not in the starting lineup. That is a great winning percentage. During his absence, the Thunder not only climbed to the top of the Western Conference, but they now hold the NBA’s top record, surpassing the San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers. That’s pretty amazing given the fact that they are without their star point guard.
Basically what is trying to be said here, is that Durant’s play and his ability to help his team win, while missing Westbrook, have moved him into the top spot in the MVP race. He has not only shown that he is one of the most efficient players, but that he is doing whatever he can to give his team a win at the end of a game. Those are the characteristics of the Most Valuable Player in the league.
Now, what does Westbrook’s return mean for those MVP characteristics he held in his absence and his spot in the race?
Durant With Westbrook
It’s pretty clear now that Kevin Durant can produce and lead his team without his wingman behind him. But how does he play when Westbrook starts beside him? Well, Durant has won three scoring titles with Russell Westbrook playing. That means he lead the league in scoring for three straight years. It’s no question that Durant can’t produce with Russell in the lineup. He has proven that he can year in and year out.
In the first 28 games of the season, Durant was averaging 28.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. Sure, they aren’t the same as when he was the lone star, but they are still stellar numbers that need to be looked at. Durant said it himself, “We’ve been playing together for so long…we’ve played six seasons together. It’s been like 25 games that he’s missed. Out of six years, that’s not a lot. We shouldn’t have to talk. He’s a dog, and you have to let the dog off the leash sometimes to just go play. And that’s a guy you have to let off the leash.”
If Durant isn’t complaining about the dynamic with Russ, why should we? Sure, Durant may not put up the numbers he did with Russ sitting out, but he still puts up really good numbers. In addition, the Thunder win a lot more when Russ is in. They were 21-4 this season when both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook played. As pointed out before, winning will only help Durant’s chance at the MVP Award.
Durant has been unreal this year. With Russell Westbrook or without him. Yes, there has been two different styles of play during those periods, but both are worthy of landing him the Most Valuable Player in the NBA.
There will be a lot of ‘speed bumps’ for Durant throughout the season that he will have to overcome to be titled to the crown. He will have obstacles to get over before finally coming out of second and stepping up to that number one spot. What Durant needs to do to get there is continue his stellar play. He needs to continue to perform at a high level and continue to lead his Oklahoma City Thunder to one victorious game after another victorious game. In addition, he must remain healthy and able to play at the level he is, continue to prove everyone wrong and he must stop the inevitable charge coming from LeBron James.
One things for certain though, Russell Westbrook returning should be the least of his concerns.