Russell Westbrook Won't Threaten Kevin Durant's 2014 MVP Bid

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2014

SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 21:  Scott Brooks, Kevin Durant #35 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder talk during the game against the San Antonio Spurs on December 21, 2013 at AT&T Arena in San Antonio Texas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

Kevin Durant has spent the first half of the 2013-14 NBA season proving to the world that he's the MVP favorite. 

At this point, you'd be quite hard-pressed to find someone arguing for another candidate, though there are still a select few who refuse to acknowledge what the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar has been doing. The prevailing theme falls in line with what the Star Ledger's Dave D'Alessandro recently wrote about Durant: 

Funny thing: Until about two weeks ago, some of us were actually leaning toward Paul George as an MVP frontrunner. "Yeah, I think it’s safe to scratch that one off your wish list," ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said last night. "It’s Durant or LeBron."

Now it’s Nos. 1 and 1-A. That itself is a mouthful: Part of James’ dominion is the distance between him and the rest of his kingdom. The mere fact that there is a "1-A" never really seemed plausible before in the Age of LeBron.

LeBron James is still the only player who seems capable of challenging Durant during his season of pure, unabashed excellence, and it's too soon to count the Miami Heat forward out of the race. 

But that's not the point. You should know about that by now, and I'd seriously suggest tuning into more Heat broadcasts if you're failing to recognize what LeBron has been doing lately.

This isn't a LeBron vs. Durant debate. 

For some reason, there seems to be a common and misguided belief that Russell Westbrook, who is now practicing, per The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry, and appears set to return for a marquee clash with the Heat on Feb. 20, is the player with the biggest chance of stopping Durant's MVP bid in its tracks. 

"But will Westbrook's return initially come back to bite the Thunder?" asks ESPN's Michael Wallace before continuing with the following: 

That's the burning question facing Oklahoma City at a time when Durant has taken over in Westbrook's absence to emerge as a clear MVP frontrunner while leading the team to the best record in the NBA. Westbrook wasn't made available to speak with the media after Wednesday's practice, and the Thunder have officially listed his status for Thursday as a game-time decision.

Sorry, but that's not a burning question. It's not even a logical one. 

Manufacturing a narrative in anti-Westbrook fashion is rather easy to do, or at least so it seems, but it must be done at the expense of facts. You know, the things that actually matter and should be used to support arguments. 

Feb 11, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) shoots over Portland Trail Blazers small forward Nicolas Batum (88) during the fourth quarter at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports
Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Spo

While Durant's MVP candidacy took a massive stride in the positive direction during Westbrook's absence, one that started with arthroscopic surgery after a Christmas Day shellacking of the New York Knicks, that was because he began posting absolutely monstrous numbers. Somehow, K.D. actually managed to increase both his usage and efficiency, which isn't supposed to be possible. 

There's no denying that the added ball-handling responsibilities and offensive pressure allowed Durant to thrive, but the gaudy point totals overshadowed the fact that the Thunder weren't as successful without their starting point guard in the lineup. 

Wins are actually important to an MVP bid. How many times have we seen a player with sensational numbers come up short in the voting process because his team wasn't successful enough? 

Feel free to use Kevin Love as an example, since he's been the producer of ridiculous stats for years but has failed to finish higher than sixth in the MVP voting because the Minnesota Timberwolves have never made the playoffs during his tenure. 

Now granted, the Thunder have been rolling without Westbrook. 

The 20-7 record OKC has compiled since the dynamic floor general went down is the best mark in the Association over that same stretch. It's allowed the team to rise all the way to the top of the Western Conference and hold down the fort as the team with the NBA's best record.

And yet the Thunder were still better when he was playing:

This time, the without-Westbrook record moves to 22-8, because we can't forget about the two games he missed at the start of the year and the one where he did not play in late November against the overmatched Utah Jazz

But lo and behold, the win percentage is even better with him in the lineup. 

It's easy to let Durant's individual numbers serve as a memory inhibitor, but the Thunder have gone 21-4 with Westbrook in the lineup this year. And it's not like that was the result of some small sample size, seeing as we're evaluating 30 games without him and 25 with him in the lineup.

Those portions of the season should be treated with nearly equal reverence. 

Winning should matter, and while OKC has been stellar in that category during 2014, it was even better when all tools were at its disposal. 

Durant already has his MVP-caliber numbers, and earning an even better record will help him out. Plus, it's not like he's struggled to post gaudy stats with Westbrook on the court. 

Beyond those three scoring titles earlier in his career—and remember that Westbrook had never missed a regular-season game prior to this season—Durant was thriving as an individual even before Westbrook's surgery. 

In fact, Basketball-Reference shows that the high-scoring forward was averaging 28.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game over the first 28 outings of the season. Hardly numbers to turn your nose up at, even if they aren't quite as special as what he's done while playing as the lone star. 

"We shouldn't have to talk about anything," Durant told Wallace about his relationship with the mercurial point guard. "We've been playing together for so long...we've played six seasons together. It's been like 25 games that he's missed. Out of six years, that's not a lot. We shouldn't have to talk. He's a dog, and you have to let the dog off the leash sometimes to just go play. And that's a guy you have to let off the leash."

As I've maintained throughout the duo's time together, Durant isn't complaining about the dynamic with his teammate, so why should we? 

"It's far too simplistic to whine about how this version of the Durant Show won't likely continue, especially since Westbrook puts on a performance of his own that is arguably the best among the league's uber-talented point guards," writes USA Today's Sam Amick

Sit back and enjoy the show. Durant always puts on one, and the Thunder only get more entertaining when Westbrook is on the court. 

Oh, and they get better. 

There's a lot standing between Durant and an MVP award that would finally allow him to stop coming in second.

He must continue playing at a high level while leading the Thunder to victorious outing after victorious outing. He must stay healthy and continue the narrative that he's asserting himself as the most dominant offensive force in the NBA. He must hold off the inevitable charge from LeBron James. 

But he doesn't have to overcome Westbrook.


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