Russell Westbrook is staying in Oklahoma City.
The Vertical reports that the Thunder guard has reached a three-year, $85 million-plus maximum contract renegotiation. This puts to rest, at least for the time being, notions that General Manager Sam Presti was about to lose his two most valuable cogs this offseason — three, if you count Serge Ibaka.
With former tag-team partner Kevin Durant leaving for brighter horizons in Golden State, Westbrook is ranked third, behind Stephen Curry and LeBron James, for the best odds to win next year’s MVP award.
These odds are deceptive as they pertain to the five-time all-star; he should be considered the overwhelming favorite to take home the league’s top honor in 2017.
To begin, no player in the league will have more autonomy next season than Westbrook. He already essentially operates on his own wavelength and just saw the team’s leading shooter and scorer leave the organization.
Last season, with Durant, a top-five player in the league, on his team, Westbrook ranked sixth in usage rate (31.3). When Durant left the floor and Westbrook stayed, according to data from NBA WOWY, his usage rate spiked to 39. For context, the highest single-season usage rate ever recorded was 38.7, set by Kobe Bryant in 2005-06. Westbrook’s 38.4 percent usage rate, set in 2014-15, is the second highest single-season mark. It was produced while Durant missed 55 games due to injury. Plus, Westbrook controlled the ball for 8.1 minutes per game, the second most of any player in the league, and saw the seventh most touches (88.8). For a guy who last season produced one of his 18 triple doubles in just 17 minutes, affording Westbrook more time and control on court is just asking for the guy to produce even more ostentatious stat lines.
Curry ranked third in the league in usage rate, yes, but also missed more time in the regular season than Westbrook and is coming off a playoff run in which he missed 25 percent of his team’s games due to injury. Adding Durant — a player who demands attention and usage on the court — to the equation means he’s likely to see at least a marginal dip in control on the offensive end.
As for LeBron, it was clear that Kyrie Irving took a much more prominent role in the Tyronn Lue’s schemes in the postseason. Irving’s usage rate jumped (from 29.5 in the regular season to 30.4 in the playoffs) while LeBron’s dipped (31.4 to 30.7).
Over the past two regular seasons Westbrook has dropped 40 points on an opponent 13 times. Ten of which, or 77 percent, have come without the services of Durant. LeBron and Curry simply have too many teammates worth distributing the ball to to keep up with Westbrook. If he’s even remotely near a 41.6 percent usage rate, a true shooting percentage of 54.5, an average of 0.89 points per minute or an average of 1.09 points per shot the award will be sealed and delivered by the all-star break.
Additionally, as much as having Durant on his squad certainly bellied Westbrook’s assist totals, much of the narrative surrounding his MVP candidacy was inextricably linked to that fact — that two top-five players inhabited the same ecosystem.
This isn’t an award decided by spreadsheets. And seeing as it is, in fact, decided by voters, if Westbrook, a radio broadcaster’s dream of an athlete, can singlehandedly bring the Thunder to the postseason — and carry a triple-double average while doing so — how could anyone pick against him?