It has become fashionable to include Russell Westbrook in the MVP discussion, and as we all know, fashion and Westbrook go together like Anna Sui and horned Viking hats.
Not only did Westbrook win MVP honors at the All-Star game while coming up one point shy of Wilt Chaberlain’s record of 42 points in the NBA’s midseason showcase, he has taken that performance and built some momentum off of it, leading the Olahoma City Thunder into a somewhat secure standing in the eighth and final playoff position despite the renewed absence of Kevin Durant.
And speaking of Durant, has there ever been a player who underwent surgery before whose surgery was merely termed a “procedure” by the mainstream media. Look, the guy had a screw removed from his troublesome right foot, and a new screw was inserted. There was a scalpel involved, and an anesthetic, and a surgeon. That, folks, is “surgery.” But when an outfit like ESPN reports on Durant’s latest injury and the word ‘surgery’ is not used in the news story, you begin to wonder whether the writer is drinking the team kool-aid more than a respectable journalist should. And another thing: When someone writes: “The expectation is he will return to play in the regular season,” is that not a euphemism for “out indefinitely?” I am not the first to point this out, BTW.
But back to Westbrook.
And you know … Damn.
His triple-double Tuesday night against the Pacers was his second of the month, he is averaging nearly 30 points per game in February, the Thunder have won nine out of 10 this month, and — perhaps most importantly — Westbrook is playing like a true leader, not a second banana.
Westbrook has six games this month with 20 points, 10 assists and 5 rebounds. The rest of the league has five, combined.
Westbrook has scored at least 20 points with 10 assists in each of Thunder’s last three games, all wins. The last player to win four straight games while also putting up 20 points and 10 assists in a single season were Magic Johnson (4 times) and Kevin Johnson (once) in the 1989-90 season. And you know, damn, that was a long time ago.
Not quite as long ago was January, 2015, a month in which the Thunder failed to reach 100 points nine times in 14 games. This month? They have been over the century mark in every single game. OKC is now only 2 1/2 games behind the defending champion San Antonio Spurs for seventh place, and they are 1-0 against the Spurs this season with two games remaining. If they get that tiebreaker and/or get past the Spurs, they get to avoid the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.
And so while Westbrook has not been in the MVP discussion over the first three months of the season, he has put himself squarely in it as we (thankfully) reach the end of a frigid February. Citizens throughout the country have been freezing, with the exception, of course, of Westbrook.
So he jumps into our latest rankings like a pole vaulter.
1. James Harden, Houston Rockets. I will tell you a little story, children. There used to be a very tall man who was a very good basketball player on both ends of the court. He led the Orlando Magic to the NBA finals, he spent a single season in Los Angeles not getting along all that well with Kobe Bryant, then moved on to the Houston Rockets and became … an afterthought? Dwight has scored 20 or more points just 11 times this season, 30 points once, and hasn’t suited up for a game in 35 days and counting. Harden? He has gone for 30 or more 25 times. Tonight we get to find out if he can lead the Rockets past the Clippers for the first time in their past seven meetings. (LAST EDITION: No. 1).
2. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder. He is the best point guard in the NBA, period. Yes, I know that will upset some people in Los Angeles who believe Chris Paul holds that distinction, but Westbrook is not as prone to bouts of late-game cranial flatulence like Paul is — the latest coming at the end of Monday night’s 3-point loss to the Grizzlies. And here’s another thing about Harden: He has a new dedication to defense, which was the most picked-apart part of his game throughout his career. It is one thing to be a prolific scorer, but is is quite another thing to be a prolific scorer (he leads Westbrook, 27.3 to 25.9) who is expending just as much energy on the defensive end of the court as the offensive end. (LAST EDITION: NR.)
3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers. His team is fourth in the East, second in the Central Division and 1 1/2 games behind the faltering Toronto Raptors. All of those things are going to change in the next couple weeks, especially with Derrick Rose going down with another knee injury, and it’ll be the Cavs and the Hawks in the Eastern Conference finals in late May. Go ahead and book it. In his past two games James has passed Scottie Pippen for first place in career assists by a forward, and he also moved ahead of Allen Iverson on the career scoring list. Pop quiz: When were Iverson and James teammates, and which one of them started? I’ll give you some clues: Larry Brown, Athens, bronze medal. His latest teammate is Kendrick Perkins, who will be an asset come playoff time. Dude can still shut down any opposing big. (LAST EDITION: No. 5)
4. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans. His shoulder injury is such a shame, not only because it could take the Pels out of the playoff race, but also because making it into the top eight in the West was a prerequisite for this kid to have any reasonable shot at winning this award. Remember like two weeks ago when the West was a 10-team race? Yeah, and then Lon Babby lost his mind and turned into Jim Dolan 2.0, and Davis went back on the shelf in his first game back after the break. One thing that Pels fans’ can pin their fading hopes on: They won the season series against Oklahoma City 3-1, so they have that tiebreaker, and they are 2-1 against the Spurs with one game remaining on the final night of the regular season. (LAST EDITION: No. 2).
5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors. The ‘Dubs are 44-9 with him and 0-1 without him. You never want to hear the words ankle soreness and Stephen Curry in the same sentence, but we are back at that point again. And if this becomes a chronic issue that may even require a “procedure,” it is not out of the question that the Memphis Grizzlies finish with the best record in the West. Remember, it is still February. The season doesn’t end until mid-April. All the snow and ice will be melted by then, except perhaps in Boston and International Falls, Minn. Still a long way to go, folks. But with that being said, I will still flip over to a Golden State game as my first choice during my late-night League Pass viewings — so long as the Thunder are not playing at the same time. (LAST EDITION: No. 4).
DROPPED OUT: LaMarcus Aldridge: No. 3.
NEXT FIVE: La Marcus Aldridge, Portland; Jeff Teague, Atlanta; Pau Gasol, Bulls; Marc Gasol, Grizzlies; Jahlil Okafor, Duke.
EDITION IX: CONSUMMATE NEW YORKER EDITION
EDITION VIII: BLATT IS RIGHT ON LBJ, SORT OF
EDITION VII: MUTTERINGS ON THIBODEAU
EDITION VI: MOZGOV THE MVP, IN A WAY
EDITION V: LeBRON JAMES APPROACHES THE BIG THREE-OH
EDITION IV: FROM NEW YORK TO SLOVENIA TO CUBA
EDITION III: PRINCE WILLIAM MEETS LeBRON JAMES
EDITION II: HEADLINE PORN FOR MARK CUBAN
EDITION I: ODE TO VANCOUVER
Chris Sheridan, publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com, is an official MVP voter. Follow him on Twitter.