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Which Potential MVP Scenario Would Anger Russell Westbrook the Most?

Russ is a beloved NBA superstar who has elevated the league by sheer force of will. Which is exactly why he mustn’t win MVP.

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

The debate over who should be named the MVP invariably devolves into a wrestling match over the definition of value. Some years, it means the best player in the league (assuming the meaning of “best” is broadly agreed upon). Others years, it’s the best player on the team with the best record. Occasionally the award goes to the player whose season-long narrative was most emblematic of that season. Sometimes it’s just a guy’s turn to win the award. Very rarely it happens that the candidates for MVP are so obvious that everyone gets bored and overthinks the thing. Such is the case this season. LeBron James is the greatest player alive. James Harden is leading the league in assists in his first season as a point guard. Kawhi Leonard is the premier two-way player in the game.

And Russell Westbrook … all he’s doing is averaging a triple-double with just a month remaining in the season. And he’s doing it because he’s mad.

This is why he must not win.

Like Bruce Banner, Russell Westbrook is always angry. And we love him for it. Russ is the last hour of Man on Fire, all the time. He’s that split second in any argument when you want to put your fist through a wall, but for 48 wrecking-ball minutes. As normal workaday human beings, we are beholden to the laws of physics and our own crumbling bodies. When someone at school (or work or wherever) wrongs us, talks shit, trolls us in the various arcane ways that only trolls know, there’s really very little we can do. Those small slights add up, and the negative energy accrues, going exactly nowhere, gradually dispersing through your body and soaking your tissues in anger chemicals. That’s what happens to us. That’s not what happens to Russ.

If Russ gets cut off in traffic, he can go out and dunk on someone. Hard. Snatch the ball off the glass, rip downhill, then tear someone’s skeleton fresh out of his skin. That’s why we watch him. Not just for the spectacle, which is electrifying — Westbrook, fueled by animus, never flags, never slows down, never seems even remotely out of breath, is ready, at all times, to destroy — but for what it signifies: catharsis. The angrier he gets, the better he plays. Durant ghosting on him pushed Westbrook to superhuman levels. How much higher can he go? Let’s find out.

Hypothesis: Russell Westbrook is powered by rage.

Proposal: For the good of the world, we should endeavor to push Russell Westbrook to even higher levels of performance by voting for MVP outcomes that would enrage him.

Introducing the WEFCON system (Westbrook Enraged Feelings CONditions) for deciding who should win the MVP award.

WEFCON 5 — General Feeling of Anger

Kawhi Leonard

Leonard’s MVP case broke into the mainstream last week when he near-single-clawedly beat the Rockets in one of the finest games of the season. He’s averaging 26.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists on 48.5 percent shooting. His toolkit now features a pneumatic dribble-attack game that makes up in Industrial Revolution levels of efficiency what it lacks in fluidity.

Does Russ hate him?

Probably not. The Spurs lead 17–14 against the Thunder in their head-to-head record in the Oklahoma City era, with the Thunder holding a 2–1 edge in playoff series wins. Other than Kawhi’s clutch block on Westbrook in overtime of Game 6 in the 2014 Western Conference finals, there’s not much fuel for beef. Honestly, Russell probably hates his former teammate Reggie Jackson more than he hates Kawhi.

Would this make Russ angry?

Yes, but probably not enough to significantly improve on his current season averages.

Projected statistical improvement in 2017–18:

Nil.

WEFCON 4 — John Wick After Someone Steals His Car

John Wall

After starting the season 6–11, the Wizards are surging. At 41–24, 2.5 games back of the conference-leading Cavaliers, the Wiz are on pace for one of the best seasons in franchise history. Barring some kind of epic late-season choke or Otto Porter Jr. throwing up finger guns in the player intros, Washington will finish with better than 50 wins for the first time since 1979. And John Wall, underrated, underpaid, and absolutely devastating, is at the heart of the Wizard’s success.

Does Russ hate him?

Maybe! The Wizards and the Thunder play only twice a season due to conference scheduling. But I certainly imagine that Westbrook feels the natural antagonism that comes with playing the same position as Wall. Recall that after Marcus Smart went off for a career-high 26 points against the Thunder in November 2015, Russ bristled at the suggestion that the Celtics guard could even compete with him physically. So what about Wall?

Russ did give Wall a two-handed shove in the back after the whistle during the All-Star Game. That was probably the single most exciting play of that lackluster scrimmage. And, though they both run point, Wall’s game, athletic as it is, is in the traditional playmaker mode, while Russ, with a 41.4 percent usage rate that would be the highest ever, dominates the ball like Maggie Siff stepping on a hog-tied Paul Giamatti in Billions.

Would this make Russ angry?

Add in the inevitable moment when Wiz coach Scott Brooks says that Wall is “the best point guard I ever coached,” and I think we can say this would make Russell angry.

Projected statistical improvement in 2017–18:

32.9 points (41 percent shooting), 10 rebounds, 11.9 assists, 43.5 percent usage

WEFCON 3 — John Wick After You Shoot His Dog

James Harden

Remade as the avatar of D’Antoni Ball 2.0, Harden has a lustrous beard, bountiful stats, and a strong claim to the MVP award. He creates 50 percent of all Houston assists; throws more touchdown passes than anyone else; is averaging 29.1 points per game and a league-leading 11.2 assists per game; and is the brain, heart, and lungs of the league’s best offense.

Does Russ hate him?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like it. Russ definitely hates Patrick Beverley, though. So, hopefully there’s a spillover effect, wherein Westbrook’s anger at Bev diving at his knee and knocking him out of the 2014 playoffs carries over to Harden.

Would this make Russ angry?

Yes. Losing the MVP after BECOMING THE FIRST PLAYER TO AVERAGE A TRIPLE-DOUBLE OVER AN ENTIRE SEASON IN MORE THAN 50 YEARS, A FEAT THAT NONE OF US WILL LIKELY SEE AGAIN, to his former sixth man would make Russ extremely vexed.

Projected statistical improvement in 2017–18:

36.9 points (40 percent shooting), 10 rebounds, 13 assists (more than Harden), three steals, two blocks, 43.5 percent usage

WEFCON 2 — Darth Vader After the Emperor Tells Him That Padme Is Dead

Steph Curry

After a crackling January run that saw the two-time league MVP return to pre-slipping-on-a-puddle-of–Donatas Motiejunas’s–sweat form, Steph has slumped. He shot 37.8 percent from 3 in February, a fine mark for any human being whose job isn’t to be a metaphor for the wetness of water. In March, that number has slouched to 28.6 percent, an objectively bad number at any time, exacerbated by the Warriors’ loss of Kevin Durant to a knee injury. Still, his overall numbers — 24.9 points (61.4 percent true shooting), 6.3 assists, nearly two steals, and plus-12.1 are theoretically impressive enough to at get an MVP mention.

Does Russ hate him?

Fuck yeah. I mean, he has to, right? Steph is the good-guy star with the boy scout demeanor; son of a NBA player; star of some of the wackest superstar player ad campaigns of all time; purveyor of bad shoes. Westbrook, meanwhile, goes about his business like he exists only to chew bubble game, wear wild clothing, and bathe in the blood of his enemies. Remember when Russ laughed when he and Durant were asked if Curry was an underrated defender? Or how Steph started over him at the All-Star Game despite Russell AVERAGING A TRIPLE-DOUBLE? Russ hates Steph.

Would this make Russ angry?

This would drive him insane. Which is exactly what we want.

Projected statistical improvement in 2017–18:

39.9 points (40 percent shooting), 13 rebounds, 13.9 assists, five steals, three blocks, 45.5 percent usage, three national ad campaigns, and his own signature line of overalls

WEFCON 1 — ‘Oldboy’ Hallway Fight Scene

Kevin Durant

Russell’s former teammate hasn’t played since February 28, when a falling Zaza Pachulia rolled into his knee. The timetable for Durant’s return is open-ended, but there’s nothing, as of now, that indicates he’ll miss the playoffs. Last week, ahead of the Warriors loss to the Celtics, KD talked about his injury and seemed upbeat. “It wasn’t as bad as we thought,” he said. BUT! Durant has played only 59 games, which would seem to disqualify him from consideration.

Does Russ hate him?

Yes.

Yup.

(TNT)
(TNT)

Uh-huh.

Like, there’s no question.

Would this make Russ angry?

Ahahahahahahahahahahaha … YES.

Losing the MVP to his ex-teammate who peaced on the team without a phone call or text and who could miss up to a quarter of the season would make Russell extremely angry, throwing him into a towering, blackout rage for the next 12 months at least.

Projected statistical improvement in 2017–18:

42.2 points (40 percent shooting), 15 rebounds, 15 assists, 10 steals, five blocks, 55 percent usage rate, plus-60 instances of shade, 20 pictures of cupcakes posted to Instagram, 10 Jordan Brand commercials, a full-length documentary about his fashion interests, various references to this picture of Durant’s hair, 2.5 instances of walking into the arena wearing a full-on photographer’s outfit complete with tripod, and a Mountain Dew commercial set to Lil B’s “Fuck KD”