If you spend any time perusing NBA Twitter, you've probably seen a meme taken from Kevin Durant's MVP speech last spring in which his Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook stares at the trophy intently from his seat. The idea is that Westbrook is so competitive and focused that he can't help but lust after the NBA's most prestigious individual accolade even when the spotlight is on a friend. He's an obsessive.
If Westbrook keeps up his current play, the joke might become reality in just a few months. As the Thunder look to hold onto and improve their playoff position with Durant hobbled, Westbrook has stepped into the role of primary superstar without issue and played at a level that has put him right next to Stephen Curry and James Harden among the league's top three MVP candidates. Always an All-Star but often a target for criticism, the electric Westbrook has transcended doubts about his game in recent weeks to reach another level of stardom.
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His amazing run of form continued in Tuesday night's home game vs. the Indiana Pacers. Westbrook notched a triple-double (his third of the season) by the end of the third quarter (and didn't even enter the game in the fourth) to finish with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists over just 28 minutes in the Thunder's 105-92 win. Here's a look at some of his best moments:
OKC still has games at the Phoenix Suns on Thursday and at the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday to finish out the month, but Westbrook is having a truly fantastic February. In 10 games, he is averaging 29.5 points, 10.0 assists, and 8.2 rebounds in a not-especially-heavy 34.1 minutes per game. (He also won MVP honors at the All-Star Game, if that matters to you.) Plus, Westbrook has done this as Durant has missed six games with his ongoing foot problems. For all intents and purposes, Westbrook has kept the team afloat during this period — they are 9-1 in February, 2 1/2 games ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans for the West's final playoff spot, and within striking distance of the San Antonio Spurs to move up in the standings.
Whether these accomplishments add up to an MVP season depends on many factors, including OKC's final record, Westbrook's final stats, the effectiveness of Durant when he returns from injury, and the ongoing performances and finishes of Curry and Harden. For that matter, Westbrook hasn't assuaged all concerns (misplaced or not) that he's too volatile to succeed, because certain won't be satisfied until he wins several championships, if even then.
Nevertheless, this month has served as a convincing statement on his abilities. When called upon, Westbrook is perfectly capable of serving as the Thunder's primary scorer and facilitator. He's as essential to the franchise's title hopes as is his co-star. Who knows, maybe Durant will be the one sneaking a peak at Westbrook's hardware in a few months.
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