NEW YORK — The final chapter of Russell Westbrook‘s historic season was written Monday at the NBA’s inaugural awards show, as the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard was named the 2016-17 Most Valuable Player.
But it was not close, with Westbrook receiving 69 of 101 first-place votes, Harden 22, Leonard nine and James one.
Westbrook began his acceptance speech by thanking God and those close to him and the Thunder.
“Everybody in Oklahoma City that let me go out and compete at a high level every night,” Westbrook said.
Saying he told himself he wouldn’t cry, Westbrook became tearful and emotional as he thanked his family, including his mother, brother and wife, each of whom was in attendance.
“I couldn’t thank everybody, but thanks, you guys, to everybody who helped me along the way,” he said.
Westbrook made the 2016-17 season a memorable one, putting his name in NBA record books as only the second player ever, and first since Oscar Robertson in 1962, to average a triple-double. Westbrook also broke Robertson’s record for most triple-doubles in a season with 42.
“I remember growing up just being home, playing the video games and stuff with my pops, and my mom sitting there and my brother and just talking about maybe one day I could be the MVP. Obviously I was joking at the time,” Westbrook said.
“But now to be standing here with this trophy next to me is a true blessing, man, and it’s an unbelievable feeling, something that I can never imagine.”
With the Thunder’s 47 wins and sixth seed in the Western Conference, Westbrook also broke traditional MVP precedent, becoming the first player since Moses Malone in 1981 to win MVP on a team that didn’t reach at least 50 wins.
Westbrook’s overwhelming statistical season combined with his clear importance to his team was the driving force in his MVP campaign. Following the departure of former MVP Kevin Durant last July, Westbrook signed an extension with the Thunder and embarked on a scorched-earth season that included setting a new record for usage rate in a season.
What drove Westbrook’s MVP candidacy over the top was his stunning ability in clutch time (last five minutes of a game within a margin of five points). Westbrook led the NBA in clutch-time points, by a wide margin, and built a lengthy résumé full of heroic clutch moments — particularly in the final three weeks of the season — that stuck with voters.
Westbrook led the league in scoring (31.6), was third in assists (10.4) and was 10th in rebounds (10.7) per game. He ranked first in PER at 30.7, fifth in win shares and ninth in real plus-minus. Westbrook normalized the 30-10-10 line during the season, but even with the remarkable consistency, he had a number of monstrous games, among them three 50-point triple-doubles, including a career-high 57 against the Orlando Magic, and 54, plus his first career buzzer-beating game winner, against the Denver Nuggets on the night he notched his 42nd triple-double.
With Westbrook on the floor this season, the Thunder outscored opponents by 3.3 points per 100 possessions. When Westbrook sat, the Thunder were outscored by 8.9 per 100 possessions, a mark that would’ve given them the worst scoring margin of any team in the league, by almost two points.
As impressive as the numbers were, teammates, coaches and front office personnel raved most about Westbrook’s growth in leadership following the departure of Durant.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.