Remember early in the season, when we were wondering whether the hobbled Oklahoma City Thunder would even be able to make the playoffs? Well now here we are, 57 games into the season, and OKC is in eighth going on fourth in the West, 32-25 overall, riding a seven-game winning streak.
The main reason for that? Not Kevin Durant. Sure, Durant has had a solid season, but it hasn’t been spectacular. Aside from the 30 games he’s missed, his scoring average (25.4 points per game) is down nearly seven points per game from last year, he’s averaging fewer rebounds (6.6, down from 7.4) and assists (4.1, down from 5.5) per game, and he’s attempting just 6.3 free throws per game, his lowest mark since his rookie season in Seattle.
No, it’s been Russell Westbrook – who has battled injuries of his own – leading OKC. Westbrook is averaging career highs in points (25.9) and rebounds (6.5), is dishing eight assists per game for the first time since the 2010-11 season, and his PER (29.2) is second in the NBA, behind only Anthony Davis.
Between his career year and the role its played in guiding the Thunder into the thick of the Western Conference playoff race, Westbrook has played his way into the NBA MVP discussion; a discussion that has included just James Harden and Stephen Curry for most of the season.
It’s one thing to be a part of the discussion, though, and another thing altogether to be a legitimate candidate. SiriusXM Bleacher Report Radio’s Ric Bucher, for one, was speculative about the legitimacy of Westbrook’s candidacy. Until a conversation he had with an NBA general manager.
“[He] said Russell Westbrook should be the MVP this year. And I thought, ‘Maybe it’s not just the media that gotten tired of this story line,” Bucher said, referring to the Curry-Harden NBA MVP story line. “He said, ‘Look, KD hasn’t been KD all year long, and Russ is playing out of his mind.’”
In the end, according to Bucher, Westbrook’s chances are reliant on Oklahoma City’s ability to continue to climb that steep Western Conference ladder.
“With leading that team, putting that team together, putting that team on his back – if they somehow go from a team that we weren’t sure was going to make the playoffs to having home-court advantage, which would mean that over the … 27 games left, if they make up the five games that stand between them and home-court advantage in the playoffs? Especially if Houston were to stink, if they were the team to fall back?” Bucher said. “I’d have to seriously think about Russell Westbrook being the MVP.”
Do you think Westbrook has a real chance at winning MVP? Tweet your pick @BR_Radio.