Russell Westbrook was the NBA MVP in 2017, the first of what has become three straight years in which he’s averaged a triple-double.
Russell Westbrook is nearly inarguably the second-best player on his own team.
Yet the Thunder are 45-33, and they’re almost certain to win either 47 or 48 games this year, which were their win totals in 2017 (when Westbrook put a G-League team on his back and dragged them to the playoffs) and 2018 (when Carmelo Anthony happened.)
It is against this backdrop that we’re trying to build an MVP case for Paul George.
The Thunder ditched Melo. All of their starters have been at least mostly healthy, and when Westbrook went down, he had a serviceable NBA-quality player (Dennis Schroder) backing him up.
But they’re 8-13 since the All-Star break, they’re limping into the playoffs, and they don’t look for one hot minute like they’re going to last more than five games with the Warriors, Nuggets, or Rockets. And if they draw the Trail Blazers, they’re counting mainly on Portland’s astounding ability to collapse in the playoffs plus the injury to Jusuf Nurkic to earn the right to get stomped by Steph and friends in the second round instead of finishing eighth and losing to Golden State in the first round.
All of the above…well, let’s just say PG13 is starting out down about 15-0 in the first quarter when it comes to trying to win the MVP race. But let’s to it…you know the rules, “Confirmed” is frontrunner, Plausible has a solid case, Busted is anything below that. On with the show.
The Counting Stats
PG13 is averaging 28 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and a league-leading 2.2 steals per game. He is an unquestioned First Team All-Defensive at forward, he is the biggest reason the Thunder are fourth in the NBA in Defensive Rating, and he is the scoring spark that keeps Oklahoma City’s 18th-rated offense from getting any worse when Westbrook goes on one of his quixotic counting stat chases and records a triple-double on 5-of-23 shooting.
He’s shooting above his career average on field goals overall (.440 vs. .433) and three-pointers (.387 to .378) and shooting a respectable if not his best work 83.6 percent from the line.
He’s even finishing a higher percentage of his shots at the rim (21 percent of his shots are inside three feet) than he has since his leg injury before the 2014-15 season.
He’s not settling for midrange jump shots like he used to (11.7 percent of his shots are two-pointers beyond 16 feet; that was 28.3 percent in his last year in Indiana.)
By all accounts, George is an elite scoring and rebounding forward and a fantastic defender. So far, so good…
The Advanced Stats
PG13’s Big 5 advanced stats look good. 23.5 PER, .585 TS%, .203 WS/48, 5.6 BPM, and 5.2 VORP, all very solid numbers.
But “very solid” and “MVP” are not the same thing. You look at James Harden and he’s got a 30.6 PER, 11.6 BPM, and 9.5 VORP, all league-leading.
The Thunder simply have not improved meaningfully as a team in the two years Paul George has played there. Unless you do something truly out of the ordinary like average a triple-double or score 3,000 points, you don’t get to be MVP on a 47-win team when the team won that many games without you and with a garbage roster.
If the Oklahoma City Thunder get rid of Carmelo Anthony and don’t improve their record, just how valuable is Paul George (or Russell Westbrook for that matter?)
In hindsight, Kevin Durant just looks that much more impressive when his mom won the real MVP in 2014, and Westbrook’s legacy goes out the window with every Finals MVP Durant wins in Oakland.
And if it sounds like I’m expecting Paul George to be Kevin Durant, he sure better be if he wants to be the MVP!
If you’d asked me this before the All-Star Game, when the Thunder were as close to first place (3.5 games) as to fourth place and when we were all wondering if Paul George was going to lead the Thunder to the 1 seed, then sure, I’d have absolutely said PG13 was the MVP from the moment he arrived and losing Melo let the Thunder evolve into their final form.
But it’s April now. The Thunder are looking like they’ll have to win a couple of ballgames just to keep from finishing eighth.
And that’s completely Busted PG13’s MVP case.
NEXT WEEK: Stephen Curry.