Oklahoma City Thunder: Why Russell Westbrook Is the NBA's MVP Through 20 Games

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Why Russell Westbrook Is the NBA's MVP Through 20 Games
Brett Deering/Getty Images

Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder are in cruise control.

The Thunder are 16-4 through the first 20 games and Westbrook is having his finest season to date.

Westbrook scored 33 points and dished out eight dimes against the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 7. Going into the contest, he was averaging over 20 points to go along with a career-high 8.7 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game. He is shooting a career-high .338 percent from long range and his turnover numbers are down for the third season in a row.

Kevin Durant is having another MVP-caliber season as well. He’s averaging career bests in rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and is having the best shooting season of his career.

However, there should be no confusion.

Westbrook has been the team AND league’s most valuable player in the first quarter of the season.

Durant is the Thunder’s unquestioned leader (via sports.yahoo.com) and is the best pure scorer in the NBA, however, Westbrook has been more important to the team through the first 20 games.

Westbrook has taken his game to a new level. Last season he played out of control, but this season he’s in control and leading Oklahoma City’s offensive attack. He’s becoming the point guard everyone in the organization envisioned when they drafted him in 2008 (via nba.com). He’s reading passing lanes better this year and is cutting down on the unforced errors.

He’s already one of the most athletic players in the league and one of the toughest to defend as well. There’s no doubt he can score. He can get by almost every defender, and most players retreat from the paint when he’s driving to the basket.

Now Westbrook has combined his athletic abilities with the court vision and playmaking abilities it takes to play the point guard position. Something the Thunder needed desperately.

Oklahoma City hasn’t lacked talent since they combined Durant and Westbrook, but what they have lacked is team continuity.

They have spent the past three seasons playing one-on-one, isolation basketball on the offensive end, the type of basketball that you find on a playground and not in the NBA playoffs. The type of basketball you cannot win an NBA championship with.

The Thunder of the 2012-2013 season haven’t looked like the Thunder teams of the last three seasons. They are looking like a completely new team. They now can play half-court, slow-it-down basketball, and it all starts with Westbrook.

Before, Westbrook would dribble to the top of the key and either pull up or drive the lane. You never knew what he would do, but whatever it was, he was still very much out of control.

Now Westbrook looks before he leaps.

He now dribbles to the top of the key and waits for the play to develop. He’s improved at reading the pick-and-roll with Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins and has improved his court vision as well. He’s finding guys open for corner threes at a higher rate and dishing to cutters making their way to the basket.

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The Thunder needed a traditional point guard because they needed guidance.

They couldn’t win with Westbrook and Durant driving to the basket on nearly every possession. Something needed to change. Somebody needed to take control.

Westbrook has taken control.

He has become what Oklahoma City needed him to be and has proven to be invaluable so far this season.

 

(All stats from NBA.com and ESPN.com) 

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