Westbrook to Create a Future Narrative Whether He Wins MVP or Not
With the 2017 NBA Awards show coming up Monday night, we will finally have the winner of this past season’s MVP revealed. This race has been one of the most captivating in league history with several deserving candidates who all could have won the award easily in many other seasons. But only one can walk away with the Most Valuable Player honor (barring a tie). The three players who have risen to the top of the list are Houston Rockets guard James Harden, San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook.
If you follow the odds makers and the talking heads, Westbrook is the favorite to walk away from the show with the MVP Award in his grasp. The biggest (and certainly best) reason for this is that he became the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1962 to average a triple double for an entire season. This is obviously a phenomenal individual accomplishment. But what might hurt the Thunder playmaker is that he accomplished this while playing for a team that was decent, but not great. This would be a significant exception in the NBA, where players almost always need to play for one of the league’s best teams to win the award. Should Westbrook’s name be announced Monday night as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, he would be the first player since 1982 to win it on a team that didn’t win 50 games.
Recently, we’ve seen great players turn in great seasons on non-elite teams only to lose the MVP to other great players who played on better teams. Kevin Garnett (51 wins) was denied the award in 2003 in favor of Tim Duncan (60 wins). Kobe Bryant (45 wins) was passed up in 2006 as voters opted for Steve Nash (54 wins). LeBron James (45 wins) lost out in 2008 to Bryant (57 wins). In 2017, Westbrook’s Thunder had 47 wins while Harden’s Rockets had 55 and Leonard’s Spurs had 61. However, none of the aforementioned great players who played on teams who were only decent had a year quite like Westbrook’s. Being able to accomplish a feat that hasn’t been seen in 55 years puts him in a better position than any of them were.
Therefore, if Westbrook wins this year’s MVP, it will be of special significance as to set the standard for how great a player has to be to win it if he doesn’t come from one of the league’s best teams. Westbrook in 2017 will be the new bar that gets established for just how great a future player has to be if he is to be considered “most valuable” despite playing on a team that isn’t great. Any superstar in any upcoming season who puts up eye-popping numbers while accumulating about the same number of wins as this year’s Thunder will cause the question “is he as great as 2017 Westbrook?” to emerge. But that is only if he actually wins the award.
Should the MVP voters choose either Harden or Leonard, then Westbrook causes another narrative to emerge. As a result of picking against him, Westbrook then becomes an example of how great you can be and still be penalized for not playing on one of the NBA’s best teams that year. So every time a great player emerges with a phenomenal season on a non-elite team, people will argue that if 2017 Westbrook (averaging a triple double no less) couldn’t win that year’s MVP award, then a future great player who doesn’t play on an elite squad shouldn’t win it either. Fair or not, that will be the point that gets made.
So that’s where the 2017 MVP squabble leaves us with regard to the future of the award. Westbrook is either the gold standard for how unbelievable a player has to be in order to win the award while playing for a less-than-great team. Or he becomes an example for how great you can be and still not win the award (and shouldn’t) if you don’t play for one of the best teams in the game. Either way, a talking point will be set for the future that you will likely hear debated for years to come. What an MVP race the league had in 2017.
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