For several months, the NBA MVP debate has been a two-horse race between James Harden and Russell Westbrook, with occasional props given to LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and others.
But for NBA-TV analyst Stu Jackson, the discussion is all but over.
“To me, it’s a no-brainer. It’s Russell Westbrook,” Jackson said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “And I say that recognizing the fact that James Harden has had an outstanding season, and truth be told, he’s only three rebounds behind Russell Westbrook in terms of his statical production.”
Indeed, Westbrook is averaging 31.9 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists. Harden, meanwhile, is averaging 29.1 points, 11.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds. Statistically, they’ve been almost identical – and Houston (54-27), it is worth nothing, has a better record than Oklahoma City (47-34).
Still, Jackson has been enthralled by Westbrook’s season, as has much of the NBA community.
“To not call Russell Westbrook the MVP after the kind of effort, athleticism, competitiveness and consistency that he’s shown throughout the season – and statistically has achieved something that hasn’t been done in over 50 years – to not call him the MVP is counter-intuitive,” Jackson said. “I realize that over the past years that MVPs have generally been the best player on one of the best three teams in the league. I get that part. But this is an aberration. The award to Russell Westbrook is deserving. Sometimes stuff happens, weird things in sports – and this is one of those years to witness what he has done.”
Westbrook became the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season – and the first since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62.
For Jackson, that fact alone trumps Harden leading the Rockets to seven – potentially eight – more wins.
“I do,” Jackson said. “You talk about records in other sports and the ones that have been long-standing, like winning the Triple Crown or DiMaggio’s hitting streak. Those types of records are so tough to achieve that they only come around once in a while, and I think when a player or a team achieves them, they’re deserving of special recognition. Listen, what Russell Westbrook did this season, I don’t think that he will ever do again, and I don’t think that any other player will achieve this for many, many, many, many years to come – and for that reason, it needs to institutionalized and recognized and given the MVP award. Aside from the fact that, anecdotally, what he’s done here the past week has just been phenomenal, which I thought really just sealed the deal in the court of public opinion.”
Westbrook broke Robertson’s record, scored 50 points, hit a game-winning three at the buzzer and knocked Denver out of the playoffs – all on the same night.
The Thunder close the regular season against Denver (39-42) on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET. Oklahoma City will face the Harden-led Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.