Come June 26, which is the date of the NBA awards ceremony, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook is going to be named the league's Most Valuable Player. I say that as a virtual matter of fact, if we are to believe the voting numbers gathered by the Rocket blog The Dream Shake, in which they've compiled all of the votes that have been made public by selecting media members. According to THOSE numbers, Westbrook should run away with the honors.
But for every argument you can make for Westbrook, I can make two for James Harden, who has lived in the same raw statistical stratosphere as Westbrook all season, with efficiency numbers and true shooting percentages that leave Westbrook in a pile of analytical dust and left the Thunder eight games behind the Rockets in the standings. Best I can tell, Harden's main deficiency in comparing his season to Westbrook's is Harden's per-game rebound average (a little more than eight per game) has only one digit, not two.
So on Sunday night, in trouncing the Thunder by a score of 118-87, not only did the Rockets absolutely and utterly curb-stomp Oklahoma City into a 1-0 deficit in their best of seven playoff series, but they are also one-fourth of the way to exposing the Westbrook MVP voters for the surface-thinking, raw-stat worshipping humps that they are.
Sorry, if that sounds personal, but I can't stand lazy thinking, and voting for Westbrook because "HE AVERAGED A TRIPLE DOUBLE" is the height of lazy thinking. There, now I'm done. On to the game's winners and losers...
4. Rocket glass eaters
Speaking of exposed, my preview post from last Friday has already been exposed, one game in, for one poor nugget of analysis, specifically the bullet point in which I implied that Ryan Anderson is a one-trick pony. On Sunday night, Anderson was the Rockets' leading rebounder, with 12 boards, and only took six shots all night. The Rockets still won by 31, and Anderson was a team-best +27 on the plus/minus tip. The Thunder, who were statistically the best rebounding team in the league this season, were smoked on the boards by the hustling Rockets, 56-41. (But to some, Russell Westbrook is statistically the MVP of the league, so these numbers are not always indicative of truth. Sorry, I said I would move on...I can't.)
3. The Rockets' game ops staff
Extremely little chill being shown here by the graphics crew at Toyota Center, comparing Westbrook's night (unfavorably) to not Harden but Patrick Beverley, almost as if to say, "Wake us up when Westbrook's numbers are actually comparable to our LEAD guard..."
2. James Harden
The truth is that both MVP candidates had rough starts to their games. The difference was Harden was able to pull out of his nosedive. After starting off 4-11 from the field, including 0-4 from three and 0-3 from the line, Harden bounced back to finish with a respectable 13-28 night from the field, going 3-7 in his remaining three point attempts and making all eight of his remaining free throws. He protected the basketball as well, with just two turnovers all night. His two threes helped take a 20-point game to a 30-point game in a matter of two minutes in the fourth quarter and effectively sent all the starters to the bench on both sides, a true finishing maneuver.
And then there was this...
James Harden likes to show his visitors around the court pic.twitter.com/cVq6zV6dVC— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) April 17, 2017
Poor Kanter. Poor, poor Enes Kanter.
1. Patrick Beverley
A couple of seasons ago, Beverley was unable to take part in the Rockets' deep postseason run. It hasn't hindered his popularity with Rockets fans, as Red Nation loves them some "Pat Bev." However, he is truly the type of player for whom a deep playoff (title, maybe?) run, full of big moments, would fortify his all-time status. The more hated a player is by other fan bases, the more beloved a player is by his own fan base, which is to say that Beverley might be the most popular non-Harden Rocket of the last five seasons, and one of the five or ten most popular non-title team Rockets of all-time. Sunday night, Beverley was his usual bundle of intangibles, but also added 21 points and 10 rebounds. Oh, he also held the soon-to-be MVP to 6-23 shooting. Pretty good night for the wolverine.
4. Steven Adams' "fake tough guy" screens
The Rockets outscored the Thunder 54-25 after this (illegal) play by Adams on Beverley...
It's even more fun in with Jim Ross on commentary!
The Steven Adams pick on Patrick Beverly set to Jim Ross. pic.twitter.com/PvtMAx4iv8— The Shadow League (@ShadowLeagueTSL) April 17, 2017
3. Sam Presti
If this series continues like this — okay, maybe not 31-point losses, but just a constant uphill battle for the Thunder — it's going to be a pretty sobering reality check for the Thunder general manager, Presti, that this may be as good as the team will be on his watch and with Westbrook as the focal point. It's doubtful that Oklahoma City is a destination for big-time free agents; they're too good to be picking very high in the draft, and they're kind of pot committed salary-wise to Westbrook, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter as their max salary guys. While it's still a better spot long-term than over half the league — at least they have ONE superstar — it's got to make Presti cringe to think that he had Durant, Harden and Westbrook on the same team at one time.
2. Victor Oladipo
Now, the second most talented player on the Thunder is Oladipo, the former second overall pick in the draft, who shot 1-12 from the field on Sunday night. If he continues to be a virtual goose egg, this series will be over a week from last night.
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1. Russell Westbrook
Not much more needs to be said here...
...except that Westbrook also had nine turnovers, which means he finished just one turnover shy of a triple double!
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.