Entering the month of February, it appeared there was only a three-man race for NBA MVP between Stephen Curry, James Harden and LeBron James. Someone forgot to tell Russell Westbrook, who is shooting up the NBA MVP odds at sportsbooks.
Curry Still One to Beat
It obviously depends on which sportsbook you check, but the Warriors' Curry is the favorite to win his first MVP at all of them. I've seen him listed as short at -500 on NBA odds. Curry deserves to be the favorite. He was probably the "face" of the first half of the season as the Warriors have the NBA's best record and preseason favorite LeBron James struggled a bit at first and missed a handful of games due to injury. Curry is the best player on the best team and that's usually the MVP.
I've liked Harden for a while now for MVP, and he's +130. The Rockets probably won't finish in the Top 4 of the West, but that's far from Harden's fault. He leads the NBA in scoring at a career-high 27.3 points per game and is carrying that team with Dwight Howard so injury prone and currently out -- likely to remain so until mid-March at least. Harden's even playing defense!
Then there's LeBron, who is +350 on NBA odds. With all due respect to Curry and Harden, there's still no argument who the best player on the planet is. And now James' Cavaliers are playing like the NBA championship favorites, having won 17 of their past 19 games. We get a great MVP-type showdown on Thursday night when Golden State visits Cleveland.
It's Russell's World Right Now
Westbrook isn't the biggest star on his own team as that moniker belongs to Kevin Durant. But Durant has played just 27 games largely due to a broken foot and is going to miss at least one more week and maybe several more after a procedure last weekend to fix soreness in that surgically-repaired foot. The Thunder haven't missed a beat without the reigning MVP and scoring champion because Westbrook is putting up crazy numbers and is now at +350 along with James.
The Thunder won their seventh straight game Tuesday, 105-92 against Indiana. Six of those wins were by double digits, including against West powers the L.A. Clippers, Dallas and Memphis, and the last three without Durant. Westbrook had his third triple-double of the season Tuesday with 20 points, 11 rebound and 10 assists. It was Westbrook's fourth straight game with at least 20 points and 10 helpers, the first player to do that in all victories since 1989-90. Westbrook has six games this month, in which the Thunder are 9-1, with at least 20 points, 10 assists and five rebounds. Every other player in the NBA has combined for five in February. In 10 February games, Westbrook is averaging 29.5 points, 10.0 assists and 8.2 rebounds while also winning NBA All-Star Game MVP honors and nearly setting that game's scoring record.
Overall on the season, Westbrook is averaging 25.9 points, 8.9 assists and 6.5 rebounds. If he could get to 26.0 per game by the end of the season and keep his other averages near where they are, he would join Oscar Robertson, LeBron James and Michael Jordan as the only guys to ever average 26-8-6 in a season. Amazingly, the Big O did it nine times. The Thunder aren't better without Durant, but it certainly boosts Westbrook's stats. Westbrook is averaging almost 36 points per 36 minutes with Durant off the court and 22.3 points per 36 minutes with Durant on it. Westbrook's ESPN player efficiency rating of 29.17 is No. 2 in the NBA behind the Pelicans' Anthony Davis (31.24). Curry is third at 27.80, Harden sixth at 27.29 and James seventh at 25.51.
Working against Westbrook winning MVP is that teammates have only gone back-to-back once in history, Boston's Bob Cousy and Bill Russell in the late 1950s. Also, Westbrook missed 14 games early in the season with his broken hand. Only two players in league history have won MVP when missing more than 10 games: Bill Walton and Allen Iverson. Plus the Thunder aren't likely to finish higher than seventh in the West after starting slow with Durant and Westbrook out. That won't be enough for most MVP voters when placing their NBA picks.
NBA Free Pick: I don't believe Westbrook can get higher than third in the voting without guys ahead of him getting hurt -- even if Durant misses most of the rest of the season. When KD's back, Westbrook's numbers will have to dip.