Mark Cuban’s talent for verbal expression has put him at odds with nearly most of the NBA who look upon Russell Westbrook’s season as amazing and transcendent. Last year, Cuban said Westbrook wasn’t a superstar. This year Cuban’s knife was pointed at the back of Russell Westbrook again, at his historic season.
Forget Cuban for a minute. Russell Westbrook has been tremendous this season as he is on pace to make history. James Harden, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have been tremendous all year long. But they are not on the cusp of history.
Russell Westbrook is leading all players in PER. He is scoring, 31.7 points. He is third in assists, 10.1. He is twelfth in rebounds, 10.7, and he is a guard. Let that soak in. He is rebounding like a forward. Westbrook is on pace to join Oscar Robertson as the only dudes to drop a triple double the entire season.
Mark Cuban isn’t impressed. He doesn’t think Westbrook is MVP worthy. Last year he said Westbrook was an All- Star but he was not a superstar, implying he’s not elite.
First, the context about last season. Westbrook got into a shouting match with a Dallas fan, a couple of expletives left Westbrook’s mouth, and he was fined. Cuban then went on his Westbrook isn’t a superstar rant in response. But a superstar isn’t defined by emotions and behavior as they are battling in the playoffs. They are a superstar because of what they do, not what they say. Basketball behavior matters.
In a put up or shut up game because Westbrook heard the Cuban insult, he answered the bell in game 5 in OKC with a 36 point, 12 rebound, 9 assist performance to usher Cuban and his team into vacation mode. Just to be clear. Westbrook scored more points than any Mavs player. He made more shots than any Mavs player. He had more rebounds than any Mavs player. He tied Zaza Pachulia in assists. He had a +25. All of it made Cuban’s comments seem a little silly and one of those things you say when your team is on the brink of elimination (again). The Mavs haven’t won a playoff series since they won the NBA title in 2011. The post-season losing has made Mark Cuban’s brain a little broken.
What is a MVP? Is it leading a team to the playoffs when you are the best player surrounded by spare parts? Is it overcoming the loss of a generational player and still being relevant? Is it taking the team on your shoulders and guiding them to wins?
What is a superstar? Defining a superstar by popularity is a slippery slope. Influence and moving the needle and selling tickets are cultural values. But on the basketball side of things, a superstar dominates his position and is in the top 5 in the league in multiple areas. A superstar is special.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle disagrees with his boss. Unlike Cuban, Carlisle was a NBA player, had a career with the Celtics, Knicks and Nets as a guard.
“It’s amazing what Westbrook is doing. He just has boundless energy. He never slows down. His wide ranging skills to do all these different things- and the tenacity that you have to have to average that many rebounds- is just impossible to describe.”
Westbrook is the 5th best player in the NBA when measuring impact on the court. The four players ahead of him are Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, LeBron James and Kyle Lowry. (Real Plus-Minus)
Still not convinced?
Westbrook is averaging more points, assists, rebounds, than Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James. He has a higher PER than all three. Westbrook doesn’t have the luxury of a Klay Thompson or LaMarcus Aldridge or Kyrie Irving. He is a sculptor. He has to mold the clay he has.
So Mark Cuban is being a homer for his Mavs squad and he is also wrong. LeBron James is a superstar. Steph Curry is a superstar. Kevin Durant is a superstar. Russell Westbrook is a superstar.
Russell Westbrook is the MVP. No one is doing what he is doing all by himself. No one else is about to taste history. James Harden has been terrific. So has LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. But Westbrook is a one man gang out there determined to do it all. He can’t. We know that. But it doesn’t keep him from lacing them up every night and pulling his team with him, win or lose.
photo via llananba