Over the past several weeks, there has been a TV commercial for U.S. Cellular starring Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook. The ad plays on Westbrook’s multi-talented basketball persona by showing the “many sides” of Westbrook: as a farmer, a paleontologist, park ranger and TV spokesperson. No one could be that talented, the commercial intimates, but we are led to believe that Russell Westbrook could be all those people.
There’s no doubt that Westbrook is not a one-dimensional basketball player. Go to last year’s stat sheet and you’ll see that the seven-year veteran from UCLA averaged 28.1 points per game, grabbed 7.3 rebounds per game and dished out 8.6 assists per contest in 67 games. Pretty gaudy numbers for one season.
For his efforts, Westbrook finished fourth in the league MVP voting. But was Westbrook the best player in the league last season? Sure, Steph Curry was the best player on the best team, Golden State, that won the title. Plus James Harden and LeBron James had outstanding years for their respective teams. Did OKC’s failure to garner a playoff berth drop Westbrook in the MVP voting? Of the 12 players who received votes for the MVP, Westbrook finished first in average points, second in assists, second in steals and sixth in rebounds.
Westbrook had a great season… just not good enough to win him an MVP award. The season, however, may go down as one of the greatest in NBA history. Consider this:
* Westbrook is now one of only five players to average 28 points and eight assists in the same season. LeBron did it in 2009-10 and Michael Jordan accomplished it in 1988-89. Prior to that, Tiny Archibald did it in consecutive years (19712-72 and 1972-73), and Oscar Robertson did it in eight seasons in his career.
* Add his 7.3 rebounds per game to the above paragraph, and Westbrook is one of only four players in NBA history to average 28 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in a season. James and Jordan each did it in one season while Robertson had six seasons in his career with these numbers.
* If you add his 2.1 steals per game to the above stat, Westbrook’s 2014-15 season ranks as only the second in league history where a player had averages of 28 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and two steals per game. The other player was Jordan in 1988-89 when he averaged 32.5 (points), eight rebounds and eight assists, and 2.9 steals per game. In a case of statistical irony, Jordan, like Westbrook last season, did not win the league MVP award in 1988-89 after his season with these rare numbers. Magic Johnson won that season.
Not taking anything away from Curry last season, but Westbrook had a season for the ages last year. Usually when players put up those kinds of numbers, they are rewarded for their efforts. However, the Thunder’s season and a group of other deserving candidates probably blocked Westbrook from getting more MVP support. He may not have won the MVP, but Westbrook’s 2014-15 will be tough to match for years to come.
One other fact to consider is that Westbrook piled up these numbers with teammate Kevin Durant on the bench with an injury that limited him to only 27 games last season. Westbrook was asked to pick up the load for Durant’s loss. With Durant back in the fold this season, it’s unlikely that Westbrook will again reach the per-game averages he had last season.
So, while he didn’t win the MVP in 2014-15, we’ll just have to appreciate that Russell Westbrook had one of those rare “one-of-kind” individual seasons that rarely occurs in the NBA. It may be his only season like that, but he has many more chances to win MVP.