For the first eight years of his NBA career, Russell Westbrook was a talented but flawed player. His rookie season was the only point of his career where he had an assist percentage below 29 and a turnover percentage above 17. It took him time to get acclimated, but it wasn't long before he was an elite talent in this league.
Of course, Westbrook, even at an elite level, still had flaws that crippled his heights. He never developed into a good outside shooter, while also dominating the ball despite playing alongside one of the greatest scorers of this generation. It made no sense for Westbrook to play that way other than that was his demeanor. No one, not even his teammates, could hope to contain Westbrook.
2016-17 is finally the year the NBA is seeing what happens when no one even bothers trying to contain him. Once Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City, the Thunder became Westbrook's team 100 percent, and he turned into the MVP of the sport.
Through 19 games, everything that Westbrook did well in the past had simply been elevated to a level unparalleled around the league. Averaging 30.9 points, 11.3 assists, and 10.3 rebounds per game Russ is attempting to become the first player to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson in 1962-63. Even that happened back when each team hoisted up shots without a care in the world, offering far more opportunities to accumulate the big three stats.
For Westbrook to average a triple-double in today's NBA is something the league has never seen. And yet, he has remained an efficient player, putting up a true-shooting percentage even better than his career average. He is leading the league in usage rate by an insane margin and is still first in box plus/minus. His actions, seemingly selfish on the outside, are what allows Oklahoma City to compete and win.
That's what being a league MVP is all about: doing the most you possibly can to help your team succeed. There are other perfectly viable MVP candidates around the league this season, and incredible performances so far from young guys like the Buck’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Celtics Isaiah Thomas. But none of these players bring the overwhelming domination and power of Westbrook.
James Harden has been just as impactful offensively, but it's on the defensive side of the ball where he falls short. The Rockets are one of the worst teams in basketball defensively, partially thanks to Harden's putrid 110 defensive rating out front. As bad as he's been his whole career, this year would actually set a career-worst mark for Harden playing defense.
Chris Paul and Kevin Durant are better potential usurpers to the MVP award, but they have too much help on their rosters not to see some siphoning of votes. Westbrook stands alone, both in OKC and on the leaderboard.