No Kevin Durant? No problem. Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook is taking the term “his team” to a whole new level. 

Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook looks on during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Thunder won 103-97. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook looks on during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Thunder won 103-97. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Two games into the new NBA season and Westbrook is averaging 41.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 9.5 assists per game. The league’s opening week belonged to Westbrook, who is scoring, rebounding and leading his team. The Thunder are 2-0, while Durant’s Golden State Warriors suffered an embarrassing opening night loss before scraping together a tough win over the lowly New Orleans Pelicans on Oct. 29. The sample size isn’t huge but Westbrook has been an MVP candidate in prior seasons and appears ready to deliver another MVP-worthy campaign. Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate whether Westbrook has what it takes to win an MVP title this season. 

Riley: A team needs a lot of regular season wins for one of its players to qualify for MVP honors. While his team may not win a boatload of games this year, as long as Westbrook stays healthy, he’ll definitely be in the conversation. There’s a very small portion of NBA players who can average a triple-double all season. Westbrook falls into that category, along with LeBron James and perhaps the emerging Anthony Davis. As long as Westbrook keeps pushing and the Thunder make the playoffs, then he’ll be at the top of the list by season’s end. 

Green: The sample size definitely isn’t large, but I like Westbrook’s numbers. I just hate the fact that he’s had to put together two miracle games that barely got the Thunder past the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns, two teams who failed to make the playoffs last season. The 76ers stunk it up so bad last season that they drafted first overall in last June’s NBA draft, taking LSU’s Ben Simmons. However, Simmons didn’t even play on opening night due to injury, and the Thunder still barely made it out of Philadelphia with a win. Oklahoma City is going to struggle to win games this season as easily as they once did. Without the wins there won’t be an MVP trophy for Westbrook.  

Riley: All Oklahoma City has to do is make the playoffs with a respectable seed and keep Westbrook healthy, and he’ll be a shoo-in for the MVP. LeBron is going to make a case, but the last two MVP winners, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, might cancel each other out by playing together, so the competition for best player might not be as thick as it has been in previous seasons. Westbrook’s messy divorce from Durant garnered plenty of media attention over the summer, so he’ll have the admiration from voters. As long as he continues to crank out huge numbers and stay away from senseless drama, he’ll be fine. Westbrook’s been ridiculed for his attitude and selfish play before but those same traits with Durant in California should undoubtedly push him to the top of the MVP list. 

Green: Westbrook’s attitude and selfish on-court demeanor could also work against him. He’s never truly endeared himself to the media or NBA fans. He’s already gotten into an altercation with a 76ers fan sitting court side who made an obscene gesture in his direction. I wouldn’t exactly call him a “media darling” just because Durant bolted. It’s going to take a monster season and perhaps even some humility from Westbrook to butter himself up for voters to accept him. He’s going to be a marked man as the sole star in OKC, and it’ll be interesting to see how he handles that attention from his opponents night in and night out. He’s going to have to control the blow-ups and the anger that can sometimes overshadow his play. I don’t have a lot of confidence in him doing that, because we haven’t seen him do that in the past. I’m penciling LeBron atop the MVP list, and I also like James Harden’s chances out in Houston. Harden’s Rockets have the potential to finish the season with one of the best records in the NBA, which will attract MVP votes. Westbrook has the skill set, but he might not have the variables needed to win his first MVP. 

 

Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley

AFRO Sports Desk