First of all, let’s talk about Russell Westbrook. Let’s talk about the Oklahoma City Thunder and how bad they are.
The first round of the NBA Playoffs is quickly wrapping up. The Warriors and Cavs did Warriors and Cavs things, swept their sorry opponents and moved on as expected.
The Rockets-Thunder series was supposed to be must-see TV. The MVP race was as tight as ever this season, with the Rockets’ James Harden and OKC’s Westbrook at the forefront at that race, neck-and-neck. Two scoring machines, each with a strong self-belief that he was the league’s most valuable.
What we got was Westbrook filling up the stat sheet with triple-doubles — nothing new — while Harden’s Rockets cruised to a 4-1 series victory over the Thunder. Not quite as exciting as the matchup preview led on.
So, does the butt-kicking give Harden the edge in the MVP race? Do Westbrook’s three triple-doubles in five games prove he’s the man? What about LeBron James, who utterly destroyed the Pacers over in the Eastern Conference, or Kawhi Leonard, the best two-way player of the bunch?
No disrespect to the other guys, or Ben Affleck, but how is it not a landslide victory for Westbrook?
Westbrook was a nightmare in spurts during the Rockets series. He shot a ton and wasn’t really a cold-blooded killer down the stretch. But one thing nobody is talking about is how below-average the Thunder are. The fact that OKC was a 6-seed is baffling. That roster was sorry.
There’s no second star on that team, the closest being Victor Oladipo playing out of position. Steven Adams is fun but definitely not an All-Star big man, and everybody else on the squad would come off the bench — or worse — on most other playoff teams. Even the Pacers and Trail Blazers — the two 8-seeds — have more than one star.
Westbook averaged a gosh-darn triple-double. That hadn’t been done in 55 years. If it wasn’t difficult to accomplish, somebody else would have done it during that 55-year stretch.
I get it, he was the team’s only option after losing Kevin Durant last summer. Does that make it any less impressive? He averaged 10.4 assists a game passing to guys like me. It takes a ton of confidence to count on a guy like me to score.
Sure, he shot 24 shots a game — at a decent 43-percent rate — but look at Kobe Bryant’s career. Bryant never averaged a triple-double, not even when he was all the Lakers had (multiple times).
Harden is a scoring machine, and after switching to the point-guard position, we saw a Harden who was as good a passer as anyone in the league. Still, men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.
If we’re being nitpicky, LeBron should be the MVP every year. Nobody is as dominant and good at basketball. Every summer, teams don’t make any offseason acquisitions until they find out where LeBron is signing. That’s superstar status.
Leonard does it all, but he’s become a major beneficiary to the Gregg Popovich system. That might be unfair to Leonard, but it’s reality. Plus, I still don’t think his season was as impressive as Westbrook’s.
All-in-all, the four-man race atop the MVP voting has made this another bonkers NBA season. I know you’re tired of my NBA fandom, and most people aren’t on that level, but guys like Harden, Westbrook, King James and Leonard are once-in-a-lifetime players — and we’ve been blessed with four of them.
Throw in Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and a number of other freak athletes, and the level of basketball should blow your mind.
Westbrook averaged a triple-double for 82 games against those guys I just listed. He was unstoppable.
To me, that’s as valuable as a player can get.
Mike Pruden is the sports editor at The Sheridan Press.