You can probably tell from the title of this article where I'm headed. Since December, there's been an ongoing discussion about who the rightful NBA MVP actually is. James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James and others have been tossed in to the mix and rightfully so.
But there's no argument to be made.
Russell Westbrook is the NBA MVP and it's not even close. The triple-double he averaged this season is an astronomical achievement. Breaking Oscar Robertson's mark of 42 triple-doubles in a season was so unattainable by modern NBA standards that not even Michael Jordan or LeBron James tried to match it. Westbrook not only chased it down with ferocious conviction, it helped get his team into playoffs.
Everyone always makes the argument that wins matter, and that "if you take Player X off of Team X than they're no good". You can pretty much make that argument for any franchise player. It doesn't hold up in the broad spectrum of today's NBA, especially considering how deep the talent pool is.
Critics will also say that the word "valuable" is the key here. Well, what in the hell is more valuable to a team than its best player averaging a triple-double the season after they lost a player like Kevin Durant? Even if you re-qualify the award as the NBA's Most Outstanding Player, Westbrook wins that argument in a landslide.
Westbrook finished the season with a 32-10-10 average. By comparison, Harden is putting up 29-11-8 and those numbers in themselves seem so close that the NBA MVP should probably be the guy who had more wins overall. But to put this in perspective, you need to really look at the context of these numbers.
James Harden and Russell Westbrook are 1st and 3rd in both points and assists. The difference is the rebounding numbers. Westbrook is currently 10th in the league. It doesn't feel like two rebounds should be that much, but by comparison Harden is 21st.
What's even more miraculous about this is that Westbrook plays on the best rebounding team in the whole league. The Thunder average 46.5 rebounds per game, while Houston puts up the 8th most at 44.3. He's not getting more boards because he has to fill a void. He's getting more because he's working harder.
The case for James Harden is pretty clear, but his performance this year says a lot more about head coach Mike D'Antoni than it does about the player himself. The Rockets have won more games and look like a clear threat in the Western Conference, but doesn't this have to do more with the coach than the star player? What's changed in Houston? Almost everything from a personnel to a culture standpoint (yes I'm talking about Dwight Howard here).
The biggest change for Oklahoma City was losing Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook stepped up his game to put up some of the most miraculous numbers the league has ever seen.
There's an operative word in that last sentence - "ever". Westbrook set the triple-double record and won the scoring title. Betting or picking against him just because he's been the front runner this whole season is an asinine way to look at this. What Harden has managed this year is amazing. What Westbrook has accomplished hasn't been done in decades.
When comparing Harden to Westbrook, you're really doing so with a pair of apples. If you really want to make this argument more subjective, you throw Kawhi Leonard in to the mix.
If wins are really as important to the conversation as Harden and his supporters want you to believe, than it's worth mentioning that Kawhi's Spurs won 61 games this year. On a more sublime level, Leonard has also done what many thought would be impossible - replace Tim Duncan.
Leonard has become the offensive and defensive focal point of a franchise that has never emphasized one player above any other. His line of 25-5-3 doesn't jump out at you, but his impact on the game should.
Simply put, there's no defender that superstars would rather avoid more than Leonard. LeBron doesn't play well against him. Neither does Durant. He devours guards. At some point he became the modern version of Scottie Pippen. That could be an undersell. Leonard is one of the most complete players we've seen since…well…LeBron James (to be fair, I think it's better suited to compare Leonard to Pippen and Garnett).
That's a tough sell to the mainstream. I wouldn't even bother making the argument unless the numbers were closer. Leonard is a mercurial player in a way that a lot of fans may not truly appreciate, but his individual numbers don't drop your jaw the same way that Harden's or Westbrook's do. It's not really close either. Leonard doesn't rank in the top-5 for any specific, major category.
Besides, if the criticism on Leonard is that he plays for Gregg Popovich, shouldn't the same be said for James Harden? Do you see why the argument for wins and team performance only goes so far when matched up against a season-long performance the likes of which we've never seen before?
The only way that wins are truly important to the conversation is if a player's team doesn't make the playoffs. Westbrook's Thunder are in.
Russell Westbrook is the damn NBA MVP. Stop arguing about it. There's nothing any player has done this season that's more incredible than what Westbrook has accomplished. Just kick back and adore it instead of nit-picking why it's not worthy of the freaking award.