By: Zach Flener
Last night, at the end of the first-ever NBA awards show, Russell Westbrook was awarded the 2016-17 Most Valuable player. The Brodie achieved what seemed to be his only personal goal for the season, and he finally gets to hold the trophy he stared at during KD’s acceptance speech in 2014.
Okay, wait.. A couple things about this picture. First of all, we’re not even sure he’s looking at the trophy, the perspective of the picture makes it look that way, but he could legitimately be looking at anything. Also, it’s not like that’s his mad face, that’s his resting face, he literally always looks like that. He’s Russell Westbrook, he’s always angry, that’s his thing. My guess is that he’s staring at the top of KD’s head, wondering why no one has supplied that man with a brush yet. I’d be mad if I was that close to his patchy dome too. Okay I’m done.
The MVP race this season was one of the tightest races of all time, and personally, it was my favorite storyline of the season. There were nightly WARS on twitter about the race, and sides were chosen early. Beard nerds claimed that Harden’s VORP/RPM/EFG/A bunch of other acronyms no one really understands were significantly better than the other candidates. Old men chimed in with their Facebook posts about Kawhi’s defensive dominance and his quiet, Spursy demeanor. Lebron stans said he’s the best player in the league, and they were not wrong. The only stats Westbrook needed were in the form of viscous six second vines, oh, and according to basketball reference, after hours of sorting through filters and splits, he apparently averaged a triple double as well.
There were truthfully four worthy MVP candidates this season, but thats no fun. Nobody likes an award with four winners. If the award has four winners then it has zero winners. We want a champion. We want our candidate to have bragging rights for a season, and we want the other candidates to be sad so we can meme them to death. The award ultimately came down to four equal candidates, a great opportuity to understand what the MVP award really means. We have figured out over time that it doesnt actually mean “Most Valuable Player”, or we would have to consider players that didn’t make the playoffs, and we DO NOT do that (obviously we don’t do that and thats why Dion Waiters was not considered. A couple more Heat wins at the beginning of the season and maybe we have a completely different story here idk idk.). This season was the perfect experiment to derive the what we want from our MVP, and thats why the debates between fans were so violent, each fan had a fair case for their player. Here are the four types of MVP’s we had this season:
The basketball nerds MVP – James Harden
Harden’s offensive advanced stats were potentially the greatest example of scoring efficiency of all time. His team had the 10th best offensive rating in the history of the league at 115.7, while Westbrooks team finished at 108.3, good for the 328th best offensve season ever. For what it’s worth, the 2009-10 OKC Thunder also finished with an offensive rating of 108.3. Russell and KD were 21 years old that season, James Harden was their rookie sixth man with Scotty Brooks at the helm. 108.3 is not good, some would even say it’s bad. James Harden made an outstanding case for the MVP from an advanced numbers standpoint, but that was only good enough for second in the final voting.
Your dad’s MVP – Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi made the case for the best two-way player to be the MVP. He was the only candidate out of the four that played any defense whatsoever in the regular season. Harden and Westbrook were abysmal defenders, equally abysmal. Do not be fooled by Westbrook’s occasional random hustle on defense, as it doesn’t translate to actual defensive abilities. Watch him and Harden off-ball for one game and you will realize that they are equally inadequate on that end of the floor.
Kawhi ranked first this season in opponents points per 100 posessions, and was a candidate for defensive player of the year. Offensively, he managed to take a lesser role, while maintaining extremely high efficiency. With a usage rate of 31.1% (Russell was at 41%), he shot 61% true shooting from the field, while only averaging 9.1 turnovers per 100 possesions, compared to Russ’ 15.9, Lebron’s 16.1, and Harden’s 19.5.
Kawhi’s season was the best from a two-way player standpoint by far, but that also was not good enough to be named MVP.
The best player – Lebron James
In a playoff scenario, if you were only allowed to pick one player to win you a title, you would pick Lebron James every year for the last decade. He’s the best player in the league. Everyone knows it. Steph knows it. Kawhi knows it. JR probably knows it. Russell doesn’t know it but he’s wrong.
He’s the most iconic star in the league, and this season was no different in terms of his dominance. But for some reason, that doesn’t make him the MVP. If that was the case, he would have like 12 MVP’s by now.
The people’s MVP – Russell Westbrook
Russell’s stats were good. Really good. He averaged a triple double and we love that. His advanced numbers were great, but nowhere near Harden’s.
His defense was abysmal, although he manages to convince some people he’s a capable defender by random bursts of effort for a chasedown block or a breakaway steal.
His rebounding numbers were skewed by Steven Adams and Enes Kanter rebounding like a NBA finals Tristan Thompson (the one thats dating Khloe not the one from 2015-16 that guy was a good rebounder) so that Russell could get to an average of 10.
He made his NBA teammates significantly WORSE over an entire season which is something that seems very difficult to do. He had an all time high usage rate of 41%, skewing his triple-double numbers.
But obviously, after last nights award show, that’s not what the voters care about. It’s not about the stats or the defense or the team play or being the best player, it’s about who had the most memorable season. In 20 years, when we look back on this season, we will remember the absolute dominance of the Golden State Warriors, and we will remember that Russell Westbrook averaged a viscious triple double in an entire season of angry buckets after KD left. We will remember the 50 point triple doubles, the game winners, the ridiculous trolling outfits he wore to the games, the time he dishonored the family of Timofey Mozgov when he dunked on him (I don’t remember this specifically happening but I’m sure it probably happened, and if it didn’t, we all know it could have), and the fear in the eyes of opponents when he’s flying down the court in transition. It’s about the moments, and who had the most memorable season. This season absolutely belonged to Russell Westbrook.