The OKC Thunder were seven games behind the Western Conference’s 8th seed on November 23. Twelve games later, they are just half a game behind Phoenix and just 3.5 games back the 7th seeded Spurs.
Disaster in November
A season with legitimate title chances was put in limbo when 2014 MVP Kevin Durant suffered a Jones Fracture early in the offseason. But it was when Russell Westbrook broke his right hand during the second game of the season when everyone thought that the Thunder were finished for the season. Everyone, except the Thunder themselves.
Sure, November was a disaster as the team ended the first month with a miserable 5-12 record. Only one month into the season, they were virtually written off. ESPN’s stat guru John Hollinger gave them a 0.9 percent chance of making the playoffs after Durant and Westbrook got hurt. Almost everyone gave them zero chance of making a comeback. Everyone except perhaps number Zero himself:
“Didn’t have any doubt two weeks ago. Don’t have any doubt now.” Westbrook said on December 13, via newsok.com.
That was last week, when the Thunder were 1.5 games behind Phoenix. Even after losing to Golden State on Thursday, that deficit is just half a game right now. They have been 8-2 since both Durant and Westbrook have returned. And just like that, the Thunder are back in the playoff hunt in a hurry. And with both Phoenix (4-6 in Last 10) and New Orleans (5-5 in Last 10) struggling as of late, The Thunder may be number 8 before Christmas day.
The Westbrook Show
But if you think that’s the only storyline in OKC right now, it is not. Russell Westbrook is seriously making his case for MVP consideration, and has unconsciously raised the question on who the real MVP in OKC is this season. This was supposed to be his breakout year anyway because he was expected to dominate while Durant sidelined. He opened the season with 38 points in a loss to Portland. But after getting hurt himself in the following game, the Westbrook show got sidelined for a month.
But when he returned to the NBA, he picked up where he left off. Westbrook has been averaging 28.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 1.9 steals per game in the last 10 games. Didn’t LeBron do 28.2/7.6/7.2 and 1.7 during his dominant first MVP season in 2008-09? Yes he did. And it’s not that Westbrook is just simply posting big individual stats, because aside from OKC going 8-2 in their last 10 games, Russ’ .296 win shares per 48 minutes is ranked #2 in the NBA, even if he doesn’t qualify as league leader because of the games he’s missed. But the point is, he’s playing like a real National Basketball Association MVP right now and the Thunder are rolling with him.
A New MVP in OKC?
Kevin Durant is still the reigning MVP and there is no question about that. He earned it last season when he carried the Thunder during Westbrook’s absence. But Westbrook has carried the Thunder this season even with Durant on board. Look at Durant’s stats this season:
Sure, Durant’s playing 10 less minutes this season versus his career average. But that’s because the Thunder want to break him in slowly, protecting his foot. However, the Thunder are winning right now, and it’s all that matters. Durant’s injury may have been caused by the wear and tear of his body, as he’s played the most minutes of any NBA player in the last five years. It may be time to cut those minutes to keep him fresh and more productive during the playoffs. Maybe this is the right formula for OKC to finally win the title.
Make no mistake here. There is no individual competition between the two. Durant and Westbrook are as solid as a married couple in OKC. They work well a a tandem and they genuinely like each other. But with the way the season has been played so far, it does look like there could be a new MVP in Oklahoma City, doesn’t it?