Let me just say this up front: I think Kevin Durant is the Thunder’s MVP. He’s quietly had a terrific season, his team is better than last year and his value to the Thunder on both ends often gets overlooked.
And let me say this too: If I were an MVP voter, I’d pick Derrick Rose over Russell Westbrook. The award has “valuable” in it for a reason and head-to-head against Westbrook, I think Rose fits that criteria better than most. As Larry David might say, having said that…
The question has to at least be asked, especially by a Thunder inclined person: If Rose is the undisputed leader for the award, why isn’t Westbrook at least in the conversation?
The breaking point for me in wanting to write this came today when SportsCenter flashed this graphic. Comparing Rose’s season to Magic’s incredible 1986-87 season? And then saying nobody has dominated the position like Magic since Rose this year? (Nevermind that the numbers aren’t really all that similar.)
Derrick Rose: 24.9 points per game, 7.8 assists per game, 44.0 percent from the field, 34.0 percent from 3, 1.1 steals per game
Russell Westbrook: 22.1 ppg, 8.4 apg, 44.1 percent from the field, 32.5 percent from 3, 1.7 spg.
And for good measure, Westbrook grabs 4.6 rebounds a game compared to 4.2 for Rose and on top of that, Westbrook’s PER is 23.60 to Rose’s 23.34. In the end, I think we’d all agree those numbers are pretty similar. (At least more similar than Magic Johnson’s and Rose’s.) Similar enough at least to maybe put Westbrook in the same conversation as Rose. Similar enough to prevent people from saying things like, “Derrick Rose is dominating the PG position unlike anyone since Magic Johnson.” Evidently not.
But that’s the thing — Rose has hype. Loads of it. Every Bulls highlight, every time Rose’s name is mention whoever is talking says, “He could be the MVP!” It’s almost like subtle propaganda. There are graphics putting his name next to Magic’s, campaigns for his candidacy and even Rose himself says he thinks he deserves it. Really at this point, there’s no stopping it. It’s gotten to the level where if you want to go against it and vote for Dwight Howard or Dirk Nowitzki, people will think you’re crazy. You’ll be seen as the guy that’s just trying to be different to gain attention. The pick is Rose. It’s been decided and if you don’t want to get on the train, prepare to be called out.
Again, it’s not like I wouldn’t pick Rose myself. I’m just saying, if Rose is having such a legendary season and is far and away the MVP, why isn’t Westbrook at least being mentioned? I know the reasons people will say. Westbrook has Durant. Rose’s team is better. Rose carried his team through injury. True, true and true. But don’t ignore that Rose has the safety blanket of the league’s best defense and the Thunder aren’t a bad team. Plus it’s a small sample, but the four games Kevin Durant has missed this year, the Thunder are 3-1 and that’s because of Westbrook.
Plus, look at Rose’s own resume. It’s not like it’s entirely clean. He’s the best offensive player in the 13th best offensive team and the worst defender (in terms of plus-minus) on the league’s best defensive team. So while Westbrook has Durant, Rose also has the luxury of the NBA’s top defense. The Bulls have won a lot of games scoring in the 80s and that’s not just because of Rose. It’s because of Tom Thibodeau and the outstanding defensive system the Bulls deploy.
To go with that point, LeBron James has still be part of the MVP conversation for most of this season and he’s playing with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Same goes for Kobe Bryant playing with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Since when is playing with another good player supposed to hurt your MVPness? That’s the reality though.
I’m a realist, I understand why Westbrook isn’t in the conversation. Heck, the first sentence I typed in this thing was about how Westbrook isn’t even the MVP of his own team. But while this hype train rolls on full steam ahead for Rose, I can’t help but wonder why Russell Westbrook isn’t at least attached somewhere near the back.
A lot comes down to the dreaded “M-word” for OKC. Market. Rose plays in one of basketball’s charter cities, the place that had Jordan and Pippen, the place with six rings and a whole lot of people to go with it. Westbrook plays in little ‘ol Oklahoma City. The Thunder have a pretty solid national following, but that’s largely because of Durant. The fact Westbrook was picked as an All-Star this season is sort of a minor miracle in itself. Clark Matthews made the point on Twitter and it’s hard to disagree: swap Rose and Westbrook’s places and more than likely Russ is the leading MVP candidate.
I know why Westbrook isn’t in the running. I understand all the reasons. Team, role, status, market — I get all of that. I even get Rose’s value to his team is heavier than Westbrook’s, though it’s not near as large as gap as some think. (You really think this team is 45-24 in the West if Eric Maynor is starting those 69 games?) But what I just don’t get is how people can fawn and drool over Rose night after night when he puts up something like 27 points on 11-24 shooting and five assists, when that’s kind of a ho-hum night for Westbrook these days. That’s what I don’t get.
And that’s why I just wasted 900 words trying to make a case for him when there’s really no point. The race is over and Westbrook never had a chance.