Basketball MVP obvious

Ted Wu, Sports Editor

   Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook deserves the MVP award for the 2016-17 NBA regular season.

   For starters, Westbrook has become the first player since Oscar Robertson in the 1961-1962 season to average a triple-double throughout the season. Not only will he shatter that record, thought untouchable for the longest time, but he will do so while leading the league in scoring and powering his team to the playoffs.

   Indeed, the narrative of his unlikely explosion into this year’s MVP race proves the most compelling. After an offseason in which 2013-14 MVP Kevin Durant left to join the Golden State Warriors, leaving Westbrook alone at the helm of a mediocre team, he has risen to the occasion. Even with a team incapable of generating offense without him, Westbrook has managed to power the Thunder to sixth place in the Western Conference and into the playoffs.

   Critics contest the actual benefit of his triple-doubles, making the case that his triple-doubles are bad for his team and drags their play down. With the Thunder a pristine 33-9 in games in which he notches a triple-double, and a measly 13-25 when he does not, their claim is moot. It is clear that without his individual excellence, his team suffers.

    His competitive drive is the heart and soul of his team. There are those that bemoan the spectacle that he has become, claiming that he is now a distraction for the team. The reality tells a different story, however, with his incredible campaign bringing his team more together than ever with a league-high assist percentage of 57.3.

    Westbrook’s leading challenger to the award, Houston Rockets guard James Harden, has a much higher ratio of true shooting percentage to usage rate, traditionally an indicator of efficiency. While it may be easy to presume that Harden is more deserving, with increased efficiency while maintaining the workload of an average superstar (61.3 percent true shooting on 34.1 percent usage rate), this assumption entirely neglects the difference in situations between Westbrook and Harden.

    While Westbrook’s usage rate has skyrocketed from last season to this season, an increase in usage rate of 9.5 percent, his true shooting percentage has not budged at all, maintaining a 55.4 percent true shooting rate. The increase in defensive attention in addition to his endless responsibility as his team’s leader has not been able to touch Westbrook’s offensive prowess, an illustration of his epic 2016-17 campaign.

 Advanced metrics such as Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), used to account for how much a single player contributes to his team, give the same opinion. Westbrook ranks number one in both categories, while maintaining the highest usage rate in the league.

Russell Westbrook is no showoff. He just shows up, approaching Game 1 and Game 82 with the same intensity and determination to dominate. Houston Rockets guard James Harden may be more efficient, but given the luxury of a deep bench and sharpshooting teammates, he should be. Looking back on the 2016-17 season, the biggest story will be Westbrook’s historic journey, rightfully so. NBA sports writers and media owe it to the fans to put the cherry on top of his fairy tale season, by crowning Westbrook this year’s MVP.