During his MVP-caliber season, Russell Westbrook had one of the best 74 individual seasons ever.
I believe this because he averaged a triple-double for the season.
I understand that Russ’s 2017 MVP season has been one of the more controversial talking points among NBA fans in recent years. People point out how much stat-padding was involved and how the numbers were artificial, but to say he didn’t have one of the best 74 seasons ever? Come on, man.
If you have not heard, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton ranked the 74 highest individual seasons of all time, and Russ’ absence was notable. Let’s give Pelton the context he deserves by saying his rankings value playoff success highly. I, along with many other Thunder fans, disagree.
Why should playoff results influence all-time rankings of individual seasons? It’s an oxymoron.
Especially in Westbrook’s case, the second leading playoff scorer on that Thunder team was Andre Roberson.
Since the 1973-74 season, Russell ranks highly among other MVP winners per 75 possessions stats. Per 75 possessions, stats have been used as it adjusts for eras and normalizing the data when comparing completely different periods of basketball. This is necessary as the pace of the game has changed drastically over the different ages:
Points: 33.6 (1st)
Assists: 11.0 (6th)
Rebounds: 11.3 (13th)
FGAs: 25.5 (1st)
Turnovers: 5.8 (1st)
Russell is near the top in all counting stats due to the fact he owns the record for the highest USG% in a single season at an absurd 41.7%. That should not take away from Russ’ greatness that season.
The fact that one player can carry a massive offensive load for an entire season and maintain that greatness should be considered an impressive feat in itself. The usage should not be held against him because he had to shoulder the burden.
In terms of advanced analytics compared with other MVP winners, Russell has the tenth highest VORP at 9.3, seventh-highest BPM at 11.1, eighth highest OBPM at 8.7, and tenth highest PER at 30.6.
Russ having a top seven BPM among other MVPs is even more impressive because Basketball-Reference changed their formula because of Russ’s 2017 season. Basketball-Reference believed that Westbrook’s all-time statistical dominance didn’t pass the “smell test.”
Russ had one of the greatest statistical seasons ever in traditional and advanced metrics. Westbrook also had one of the best narratives. The franchise just lost its greatest player ever to the Warriors.
Everything hinted to the Thunder heading towards the lottery. But Russ was not going to let that happen as long as he was in Oklahoma. Instead, we saw him carry this team to a respectable sixth seed in the tough Western Conference by putting up big numbers every game and hitting clutch shot after clutch shot.
You could point to several games where Russ took over in the clutch and individually won games for OKC with his league-leading 247 clutch points.
Whenever discussing a player’s MVP case for any season, a common argument used is the hypothetical of how much worse a team gets if you remove X player from it. That was the case in 2017 with Russ and the Thunder, Oklahoma City was terrible without Westbrook.
The Thunder were outscored by 58 points in the 45 minutes when Russ sat in the playoffs. This should not be held against him when discussing his MVP season. It is certainly not the reason why Russell is missing from this list.
Westbrook achieved history in 2016-17. He averaged a 30 point triple-double, something that had not been accomplished in over half a century at the time. Russ has now averaged a triple-double for three seasons straight.
His achievement has desensitized us from his brilliance, but it will be one of those things that will age like a fine wine with as time passes, I promise you that.
Russell had his flaws, and they were glaring. Was he an inefficient high volume scorer who developed tunnel vision at times? Sure. Was he caught red-handed stat-padding in some games chasing the Big O’s elusive record?
But, if putting up numbers and averaging a triple-double was as easy as people make it out to be, there would not be a 55-year gap between feats. In an era where efficiency is valued over volume, the art of being able to carry an entire NBA team night in and night out is under-appreciated.
Having to be a One-Man Team is something that can overwhelm most players physically, mentally, and emotionally. Only a few players with a certain mentality like Russell can. His willingness to put so much pressure and responsibility on himself was extraordinary and should be celebrated.
I can not believe this has to be said, but yes, 2017 Russ had one of the top 74 individual seasons in NBA history.