For the second time in the span of two weeks, the defending champion San Antonio Spurs blew out the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night, this time by a final score of 113-88. After outscoring OKC 29-10 in the first, the Spurs never looked back. With this loss and the New Orleans Pelicans’ win over the Golden State Warriors, the Thunder fell a half-game behind New Orleans for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Pelicans still hold the No. 8 seed even after a loss on Wednesday night, and against the Spurs, we saw Russell Westbrook’s MVP chances diminish just a little bit more.
Westbrook is in the midst of his most dominant season as a professional athlete. He’s averaging a career high in points (27.5), assists (8.6), rebounds (7.2) and steals. (2.1) While he has made great strides as a passer this season, his best assist hasn’t occurred on the basketball court, although it’s still garnering public attention and praise.
Westbrook’s historical performance in The World’s Most Famous Arena during the All-Star Game in February earned him a brand new Kia SUV. But he decided that this wasn’t a dire need of his. Using the rewrap a gift method that many people have adopted during Christmas time, Westbrook reached out to Sunbeam Family Services and gave it to single mom, Kerstin Gonzales. What an excellent gesture by Russ…
Unfortunately for Westbrook, his dominance on the court and his generosity off it still won’t be enough to corral his first MVP trophy. As good as he has been, it hasn’t been enough for his team.
Westbrook has failed to reach 35 percent shooting in seven of his last 11 games for the Thunder. This includes six dreadful games for him during that stretch. He shot 5-of-16 and committed four turnovers in a blowout loss at the hands of the defending champs, followed by 12-of-29 shooting and NINE turnovers in a loss to the Utah Jazz. Oklahoma City responded with a win in its next game against the Suns, but once against Westbrook struggled shooting and taking care of the basketball by shooting 10-of-29 and committing four turnovers.
The streak continued as he went 10-of-32, five-of-20 and 12-of-29 in three straight losses against the Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets. Tuesday night against the Spurs, he shot 7-of 16 and had six steals, but once again struggled by turning the ball over four times. He has totaled 19 turnovers during this critical losing streak.
After winning four straight games that included an impressive victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks, the Thunder have lost six of seven games and now are on the outside looking in with regard to the postseason picture.
When you’re recognized as the Most Valuable Player in basketball, it means that you’ve elevated yourself above everyone else with your outstanding play throughout the season and it has propelled your team to a certain level of success. Westbrook has indeed asserted himself both offensively and defensively for most of the year, but it hasn’t really produced the results in the win column that warrants attaching MVP to his name. In fact, Oklahoma City is 6-14 against teams currently .500 or better with just Westbrook and no Kevin Durant.
Westbrook supporters are going to argue that the Thunder wouldn’t be where they are right now without him, which is true. They’re also going to spout his unbelievable statistics that have him mentioned with former NBA luminaries. His 11 triple-doubles this season are the most by a player since Jason Kidd had 13 back in the 2007-08 season, which is impressive, I get it. I’m also aware that his nine triple-doubles in a 20-game stretch are the most since Michael Jordan did it back in 1989 when he had 11 in 15 games.
I’m a fan of great basketball, especially when individuals are able to put on an absolute show every single night. Westbrook is averaging 30.2 points, 10.2 assists and 8.7 rebounds since the All-Star break. He’s also getting to the line frequently (11.4 attempts per game) and shooting an exceptional 84 percent. But there are other areas of his game that aren’t so pleasant.
You can look at the 4.4 turnovers he’s averaging, which leads the league, and surmise that this can be attributed to a higher usage rate with Durant being shelved. The 41 percent shooting on a league-high 21.6 field goal attempts also jumps out at you. Do you really want your point guard leading the NBA in this category, especially with this level of inefficiency?
Westbrook has also been inefficient in the clutch this season. He’s shooting just 17-of-51 overall and 1-of-12 from three on shots to tie or take the lead in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Those 51 shot attempts in those situations are the most in the league. Not exactly MVP numbers to me.
Fans salivate at the thought of watching Thunder games because Westbrook has become a walking triple-double and a consistent highlight every single night, and it has thrust him into the MVP conversation. This individual season will be one for the ages. But let’s stop the nonsense. KD gave his infamous “You’re the real MVP” speech last year. It’s safe to say that his teammate in Westbrook won’t be following in those footsteps, at least not just yet.