Russell Westbrook is your NBA MVP.
Oh, there’s still time left in the regular season, and that means Hero Zero can still shoot himself out of it — just like he nearly shot the Oklahoma City Thunder out of a 109-106 victory over Utah on Tuesday night.
But any time left at all means Russ has all the time he needs.
Did you see Westbrook’s virtuoso performance Tuesday night at The Peake? If you did, then your smart money would be on him to win this year’s Most Valuable Player award.
OKC led by as many as 13 in the fourth quarter, but Westbrook shot just 1-of-8 in the final period as Utah took the lead. That is, until he hit his last four shots in the final two minutes, including a ridiculous, acrobatic three-point play with 15 seconds left that gave the Thunder the lead for good.
“I just try to put myself in a position of, ‘Don’t panic, been there before,’ ” Westbrook said. “As a leader, my job is to make sure my team is calm as well, and that’s what I try to do, is make sure everybody is level-headed and make sure we concentrate on executing down the stretch. Because many years, that was our problem, being able to execute and get the shots we wanted to, but I think that’s a part of my job, is make sure we execute down the stretch.”
Westbrook scored 15 of OKC’s final 16 points. He scored 21 in the fourth quarter against New Orleans two nights previous. This has become routine for him.
Oh, almost forgot: Westbrook collected his 30th triple-double of the season against the Jazz — third-most in a season in NBA history and one behind Wilt Chamberlain’s once-eternal grip on second. Oscar Robertson’s previously unattainable record of 41 is well within reach. It was his fifth 40-point triple-double of the season.
Westbrook’s clutch-time scoring (last five minutes of a five-point game) is 187 points this season, best in the NBA (Boston’s Isaiah Thomas is at 182). Westbrook’s player efficiency rating (PER) in clutch time was an NBA-best 50.9 going into Tuesday.
He leads the NBA in scoring (31.2 points per game; Thomas is second at 29.6, James Harden is at 28.8). He’s third in assists (10.3; imagine what his number would be if the Thunder weren’t at the bottom of the NBA in 3-point shooting). And he’s 12th in rebounding (10.6, the only player in the top 20 who’s not 6-foot-8 or taller).
Bottom line: Westbrook isn’t just having an MVP season. He’s having an all-time historic season.
One NBA scribe argued against Westbrook, telling me the only reason he’s averaging a triple-double is because OKC isn’t a good team and, well, he has to.
Come on, I countered, if it was that easy, wouldn’t someone have averaged a triple-double at some point during the last 55 years?
At the moment, the only real, measurable obstacle between Westbrook and an MVP trophy is the Thunder’s place in the standings: seventh.
But that may be changing.
The addition of Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott have produced a better brand of basketball in OKC (say, 12-for-12 shooting from 3-point range to start the Jazz game, for instance). And if the Thunder are playing better basketball, they likely will ascend from the Western Conference’s middle third.
After beating Utah for the second time this season, OKC is just two games behind the Jazz for fourth in the West.
Houston seems to be locking up the third spot. If Oklahoma City is playing better and does move up to fourth, then Westbrook removes Harden’s only foothold in the MVP race.
The smart money is on Hero Zero.
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.