MLB’s Pace of Play Problem

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It’s nice to see Major League Baseball attempting to fix its serious problems with the length and pace of their games. The operative word in that sentence: attempting.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who ascended to the office in 2014, has made pace of play his top issue as the ruler of the sport. Before his first full season as commissioner, he instituted stricter rules regarding breaks between innings and players wasting time over the course of a game. The measures worked to an extent; games were an average of about six minutes shorter than the season before and while that seems like a small progression, the average length of games went back under three hours, a major accomplishment for a sport that has recently struggled with getting younger fans to pay attention to their product. At the time, it seemed like baseball had taken the first step toward solving its burgeoning pace-of-play issue.

Unfortunately, the sport soon relapsed and has undone much of the progress it made just two years ago.

Last year, the average length of an MLB game jumped back to exactly three hours, a four-minute regression from the year before. Instead of improving or leveling off, the problem has gotten worse in 2017; as of April 17, the average game length has jumped to three hours and five minutes. This comes in spite of the sport’s attempts to continue pace-of-play efforts; the most pronounced change this season has been the no-pitch intentional walk and a 30-second limit on managers trying to decide whether or not to challenge a play. Clearly, these measures are not working, as games are actually longer than they were before they were enacted.

Baseball’s problem with pace of play is not borne from a lack of trying. However, not all of the ideas for improving the pace of baseball games are good. Among Manfred’s more terrible ideas is for teams to start each extra inning with a runner on second base. There are countless problems with this idea, but the main one is that it does nothing to stop MLB’s problem with nine-inning games. It also brings numerous issues including statistics, strategy, bullpen usage, etc., but those aren’t necessarily important for right now.

The frustrating thing for baseball fans is that the rules put in place before the 2015 season actually did work. The games were shorter, commercial breaks were tighter, and there was less dead time in between pitches. And then, on May 1 of that year, the league office made a massive mistake and reduced or even eliminated fines for offenders of the league’s new pace-of-play rules. (Back then, players were fined $500 for stepping out of the batter’s box or otherwise violating pacing regulations.) Granted, fining David Ortiz nearly half a million dollars in the span of six months might not have been the best look for the sport, but don’t you have to do something about a problem before it gets even worse?

Here’s another point that has to be made: it’s unrealistic to expect a baseball game to finish in less time than, say, a basketball game. It’s also unrealistic to expect baseball games to be as quick as they were just thirty years ago; teams are taking more pitches per game and there is no way to control that. In fact, it’s been proven to be an intelligent strategy.

However, there is something baseball can do to solve some of their pace-of-play issues. You may need to be sitting down for this one. Here it is:

Major League Baseball can (likely) shave about ten minutes off their current average game time if they simply enforced the rules they have in place right now. They could go back to fining players for taking a foot out of the batter’s box; after all, it happens all of the time now. They could make sure that their “2:25 commercial break” is actually a 2:25 commercial break and nothing more. That required far less thought than putting a runner on second base in the tenth inning, removing pitches for an intentional walk, or radically changing the strike zone.

There is one thing MLB absolutely needs to do beyond its current rules, and that is to institute a 20-second pitch clock as soon as possible. It works exactly as it would sound, and since its introduction in the minor leagues two years ago, it has subtracted about 12 minutes per game on average.

A reasonable goal for Major League Baseball would be to cut the average length of a game down to two hours and 45 minutes. Between the pitch clocks and accurate, consistent rule enforcement, I believe I just found 22 minutes that could be slashed from every single baseball game. If you subtract those 22 minutes from the current length of games, you would have an average of two hours and 43 minutes per contest. Those are two completely non-gimmick, no-nonsense, common sense solutions to what is actually a very uncomplicated problem.

Major League Baseball needs to cut down the length of their games. It actually isn’t as big of a problem for the sport as, for example, properly marketing their stars, but it needs to be addressed. Rob Manfred and the Players’ Association can solve this problem with common sense solutions that should make both sides happy.

MLB’s pace-of-play conundrum is a very simple problem. The sport’s power brokers, however, must not overthink the current state of affairs when trying to find solutions.

Are the Celtics the Weakest One Seed Ever?

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Through two games of the NBA Playoffs, the Boston Celtics have looked less like the best team in the Eastern Conference and more like a seventh or eighth seed. That’s good, because they’ve been easily handled on their home floor by a team that was a self-imploding caricature of itself during the regular season and only got into the Playoffs because the Brooklyn Nets rested all of their semi-decent players in their last game of the season (by plus-minus, the best player on the floor for Brooklyn against Chicago last Wednesday was Spencer Dinwiddie).

But through two games of their first-round series, they have easily handled the top-seeded Celtics, dominated the rebound battle, and looked like the far superior team of the two. The Celtics are just the second one seed in NBA history to lose the first two games of their first-round series; the 1992-93 Phoenix Suns dropped their first two games to the Los Angeles Lakers before winning the last three in what was then a five-game series. The Suns later went to the Finals last year and Charles Barkley proclaimed that the team had a very famous fan on their journey. The rest is history.

But, while the Suns made the NBA Finals after such an inauspicious start to their Postseason, the Celtics don’t look as though they’ll have the same fate; after all, they are in the same conference as LeBron James. But, there is a bigger question to be asked:

Are the Boston Celtics the weakest one seed the NBA has ever laid eyes upon?

This discussion will be limited to teams who have secured the honor in the modern NBA Playoff format of sixteen teams, an arrangement that began with the 1984 Playoffs. We will also exclude the lockout shortened 1998-99 and 2011-12 seasons, as both seasons saw significant chunks of time knocked off the regular season.

Including and since 1984 but excluding this past regular season, a total of 20 teams have obtained the number one seed in their conference without getting to 60 wins; that number is generally regarded as the threshold for safely earning a one seed. Out of those 20, every single one won at least one Playoff series, and 19 reached at least the Conference Finals. Additionally, 12 of the original 20 reached the NBA Finals with three (the 1989-90 Detroit Pistons, 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers, and 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers) winning the championship. History has shown that stumbling to a top seed and going far in the Playoffs are not mutually exclusive things.

In the modern Playoff era, just five eight seeds have defeated one seeds in the first round. They are:

  1. 1994: Denver Nuggets (42-40) def. Seattle SuperSonics (63-19) (3-2)
  2. 1999: New York Knicks (27-23) def. Miami Heat (33-17) (3-2)
  3. 2007: Golden State Warriors (42-40) def. Dallas Mavericks (67-15) (4-2)
  4. 2011: Memphis Grizzlies (46-36) def. San Antonio Spurs (61-21) (4-2)
  5. 2012: Philadelphia 76ers (35-31) def. Chicago Bulls (50-16) (4-2)

*note: until 2003, the first round of the NBA Playoffs was a five-game series

Of the five one seeds that lost to eight seeds, the worst by win percentage was the 1999 Heat; their season, like all others that year, was abbreviated by the lockout and did not commence until February 5, 1999. If their win percentage was converted to a full season, they would have gone 54-28, just one win better than this year’s Celtics squad. However, with so short of a regular season, only six wins separated them and the eighth-seeded Knicks. It’s also important to remember that the ’99 Knicks went to the NBA Finals before losing to the Spurs, and the Heat put up the best fight of any team in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. In fact, it took this miraculous shot from Allan Houston to eliminate Miami:

The Heat, therefore, are exempt from this discussion; they obviously played an underachieving Knicks team that later went on a run to the NBA Finals. And in a lockout-shortened year, one had to expect some degree of craziness in the Playoffs. That also means that the 2011-12 Chicago Bulls are exempt from this discussion; they also lost defending MVP Derrick Rose in the first game of their series against Philadelphia and very likely would have moved on with a healthy Rose.

We then move to the 1993-94 Seattle SuperSonics, who won 63 games in the regular season but fell prey to the Dikembe Mutombo-led Denver Nuggets in the Playoffs. By the SRS (simple rating system), Seattle ranked number one in the league that season and were the favorite of many pundits to advance far in the Postseason and possibly even win an NBA title in the first season after Michael Jordan’s first retirement from basketball. Alas, they fell flat in April, but calling them a weak one seed would be a gross mischaracterization. While they disappointed in the Playoffs, they may have been the best team in the regular season.

Moving chronologically, the 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks were very similar to Seattle. They were second in SRS and while metrics say they overachieved by roughly six wins that year, they were still one of the best teams in the league. Unfortunately for them, they ran into the “We Believe” Warriors and were dispatched in six games. But with 67 regular season wins, the Mavericks were actually one of the strongest one seeds of all time. However, they turned in an incredibly lackluster Playoff performance.

The other one seed to exit in the first round was the 2010-11 San Antonio Spurs, who were ousted in six games by the Memphis Grizzlies. It’s worth noting that after beating San Antonio, Memphis took the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games in the Conference Semifinals, clearly cementing their status as better than your average eight seed. The Spurs probably weren’t as good as the 61-21 record, but they hardly stood on shaky ground. If anything, they were actually beaten by a better team.

That leads us to the 2016-17 Boston Celtics. I’ve used the Simple Rating System for a couple of other teams in this article, so why not use it again: Boston ranked eighth in the league in SRS this year, behind teams such as the Jazz and the Raptors. At 53-29, they were a one seed in name only, and their expected win-loss record (48-34) suggests that they were really a middle-of-the-pack team.

Part of their failure against Chicago can also be attributed to their matchup deficiencies against the Bulls. While Chicago is a top-five rebounding team, the Celtics ranked 27th in the league in the same category this past year. The Bulls have exploited the Celtics’ weaknesses on the glass to the tune of a +22 rebound advantage over the first two games of the series. That doesn’t seem like a very advanced winning method; after all, everyone could have seen that coming, right?

No, we didn’t. Not one ESPN expert picked Chicago. I picked the Celtics in a quick and easy five games. Like many others, I saw the Bulls as a hapless, bickering misadventure of a basketball team with big names but not enough cohesion and, frankly, pure basketball skill to take out Boston. Like everyone else, I’ve been proven wrong by the Bulls’ tenacity and winning combination of Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, Robin Lopez, and the National TV version of Rajon Rondo.

The metrics and the results agree: this is the worst and weakest one seed in the modern era of professional basketball. The Celtics couldn’t hide forever, and now that they’ve reached the Playoffs, their fraudulent identity has come to the surface.

We should have probably seen something like this coming, but we didn’t. We were wrong. I was wrong. And we’re all sorry. We saw the Bulls as a team that couldn’t compete with the Celtics, and we saw Boston as something they’re clearly not:

Worthy of being the one seed in the Eastern Conference.

Draft a Quarterback at Your Own Risk

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If you think you’re having a bad week, consider this: an NFL team may risk everything next week and draft a quarterback in the first round.

To be fair, a team may draft a quarterback and make it work. After all, I’ve been wrong before. But the organization that pulls the trigger first on its franchise QB in round one better be right. If not, they could be setting themselves back for the next five to ten years. It’s sports’ equivalent of Russian Roulette, and sometimes, it’s even more of a life-or-death game.

For a look at all the teams who may be looking for a quarterback early in the draft, we must obviously start with the team that has needed one as long as I’ve been alive: the Cleveland Browns. The Browns have the first and twelfth overall selections in the draft and it would make perfect sense for them to try to trade up from the latter spot. There was a buzz in the league last week when ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Cleveland is torn between Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett and North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the #1 pick. Trubisky started for one season at North Carolina and threw for 3,748 yards, 30 touchdowns, and just six interceptions. Garrett was a three-year starter at Texas A&M and looks like one of the best defensive prospects to come into the draft in a very long time. Charley Casserly, who knows a thing or two, says that Garrett is the best defensive prospect he’s seen in fifteen years. Your choice, Cleveland. Of course, the Browns could be conjecturing to get a Godfather offer for the first pick. I’m going to sincerely hope that’s what’s really going on here.

There are other teams who could potentially take a quarterback early in round one. The 49ers sit with the second pick but may trade back for more picks later in the draft. The Bears have the third pick but they signed Mike Glennon to an absurd $15-million-per-year deal earlier in the offseason and probably aren’t looking at a quarterback. The team we turn to next, then, is the New York Jets.

Bypassing the Titans and Jaguars, neither of whom should be looking seriously at a quarterback in the first five picks, the Jets represent the most likely team to fall for the QB ruse. After all, this is the team that once fell for Johnny “Lam” Jones. And Roger Vick. And Kyle Brady. And Blair Thomas. And Vernon Gholston. And Mark Sanchez. The list goes on and on.

But just remember this: GM Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles are likely in make-or-break years after last year’s 5-11 trainwreck that saw the Jets’ five wins come against four different teams with 18 wins between them. If you’re new to the NFL or mathematics, that’s not good. Drafting Trubisky, most likely the first quarterback to go off the board in this year’s draft, would be a last-ditch effort at saving both of their jobs. Incompetence, desperation, and the Jets’ needs are meeting in the exact same place. This never ends well. The Jets actually have needs at most of their positions, so drafting a quarterback makes little to no sense for them. But, if Trubisky is still available at six, don’t be stunned if the Jets pounce.

Of course, part of the Jets’ current problem is ownership. Team owner Woody Johnson will soon turn over day-to-day control of the organization to his brother once he is officially appointed as President Trump’s ambassador to Great Britain, a move that was reported as early as mid-January. It remains to be seen what attitude (and how much patience) Johnson’s brother, Chris, will have with the team. Crazy as it sounds, that may dictate what the Jets do with the sixth pick, and whether or not Bowles and/or Maccagnan are in their current roles at this time next year.

But then, there’s this: if Trubisky (or any other quarterback, i.e. DeShaun Watson, DeShone Kizer, or Patrick Mahomes) bombs in the NFL, the team that drafts him, particularly if they do so in the first round, will face major consequences.

In 2002, the expansion Houston Texans, the NFL’s equivalent of the state of Hawaii, were making their first pick in franchise history at the very top of the draft. They had a choice between North Carolina defensive end and basketball standout Julius Peppers and Fresno State quarterback David Carr. Houston’s general manager who, ironically, was Charley Casserly, chose Carr. It took the expansion Texans ten years to make their first playoff appearance; granted, part of the problem was Peyton Manning’s unwavering presence in the AFC South, but another significant part of it was the selection of Carr over Peppers. Two years later, Houston took South Carolina corner Dunta Robinson with the tenth pick in the draft. With the next pick, the Steelers took Ben Roethlisberger. To say that Casserly speaks from a place of experience on Myles Garrett is an understatement.

In 2007, the Oakland Raiders possessed the first overall pick and had a choice between LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell, Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and Wisconsin offensive lineman Joe Thomas. You know how that went. Thomas is still in the league and Johnson may be enshrined in Canton in a few years. Russell has tried and failed two comeback attempts, including one in which he offered to play on a one-year, $0 contract. No one took him up on the offer.

Of course, there are also examples of teams getting it right with quarterbacks later in the draft. For example, the 2014 Raiders took defending Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack with their fifth overall pick. The organization then waited for their second round pick and took David Carr’s brother, Derek, at pick number 36. The lesson? Instead of reaching for Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, or Teddy Bridgewater earlier in the draft, the Raiders patiently waited for the right time to draft Carr, the quarterback they had wanted throughout the draft process. While they were waiting, they may very well have drafted the best linebacker in football. Those two picks are the reason why the Raiders are currently one of the best teams in the league, no matter where they play.

That is the opportunity awaiting the Cleveland Browns next Thursday. While Garrett may be a bust, his hypothetical lack of success would be far less damaging to the franchise’s plans than someone like Trubisky’s. And if Garrett lives up to his potential, he could change the direction of the Browns’ franchise, even if they don’t resolve their quarterback situation this year. Also, don’t forget that Cleveland also has the twelfth pick and could use it on Trubisky, Watson, Mahomes, or whoever they are set on as their next franchise quarterback. Another option that exists for the Browns and every other team is to wait until later rounds to snatch a quarterback like California’s Davis Webb or Pittsburgh’s Nathan Peterman. The Patriots selected their franchise quarterback in the sixth round of the 2000 Draft. He’s still going, seventeen years and five rings later.

The Browns, Jets, 49ers and others have the opportunity to draft their franchise quarterback if they so choose. But they face a daunting gamble:

Get it right, and be successful for the next ten years. Choose incorrectly, and not sniff the playoffs for at least the next five.

Is that a risk worth taking? One team may be about to find out.

The NBA MVP Race, Explained

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Many smart people have invested their time and thoughts into dissecting this year’s NBA Most Valuable Player race. Many have come to the conclusion that the award should go to either Thunder guard Russell Westbrook or Rockets guard James Harden, both of whom are having historically great seasons. And yet, several others believe that the award should go to LeBron James; many have felt that way about the MVP race every year because James is the undisputed best player on the planet.

Everyone who has a say in this discussion has at least some form of logic behind their opinion. That’s what has made this debate so great; many intelligent people have come to wildly different conclusions about the same thing. That’s not an indictment of the league; rather, it should be a celebration of just how good the players have been this season, rest or no rest.

Therefore, let’s delve into the different perspectives used to determine who should be the NBA’s Most Valuable Player.

For starters, there is a large subset of NBA experts who feel that the award should go to the best player in the world right now. Period. No questions asked. The question these people will ask is this: if aliens invaded Earth and we needed to pick our best player to play the aliens’ best player, who would we take? This perspective was made famous by Bill Simmons and Bob Ryan, among others, and it brings up another interesting question: should we give the Most Valuable Player award to the player who had the best season or the best player in the league? If we chose the latter, James would have more than his current four MVP awards. I would argue that LeBron has been the best player in the NBA since 2010, the year Kobe Bryant won his last NBA championship. And yes, that includes LeBron’s seemingly calamitous first year in Miami, in which I would like to humbly remind you that he led the league in win shares, a full 2.5 shares ahead of Derrick Rose, the 2010-11 league MVP.

Another perspective that voters use to choose the winner of the award is to use the definition of the word valuable in a literal sense. The logic these people use is this: if you took Player X over Team Y, how far would Team Y fall? When using this argument, in its simplest form, the candidate that best fits the description of “valuable” is Russell Westbrook. Westbrook, who became just the second player in league history to average a triple-double for an entire season, means more to the Thunder than any other player in the discussion. If Westbrook was taken away from Oklahoma City, it’s fair to speculate that they would be the Brooklyn Nets right now. The Thunder offense would run through Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, and the team’s starting point guard would likely be Semaj Christen. Therefore, Westbrook is the dictionary definition of the word “valuable”.

A final argument for choosing an MVP would be to take the best individual season in the league for that particular year. This argument makes the MVP award seem more like the Most Outstanding Player award and it also loosens the definition of valuable. In this case, the argument depends on who you think of as having the best season in the league. That depends equally on statistics and the eye test; it’s also largely subjective. Through that interpretation, you could go with either LeBron, Harden, or Westbrook. It’s entirely up to you.

But who should be the MVP when the dust settles?

First of all, I am going to confine my argument to who I view as the top five players in the league this season. They are:

  1. James Harden (Rockets)
  2. LeBron James (Cavaliers)
  3. Kawhi Leonard (Spurs)
  4. Isaiah Thomas (Celtics)
  5. Russell Westbrook (Thunder)

So, now that we’re clear on that, we can move forward. I don’t see anyone else as having even a legitimate chance at or claim to the award. These are the five players who should have a mathematical chance at winning the trophy this season. Just so you know: players on this list who have sat out games for rest this season (James and Leonard) will not be penalized. They had reasons for sitting out games, it’s not their fault, and it shouldn’t reflect poorly on them.

For starters, the MVP award should go to a player who helps his team at both ends of the floor. That is particularly true this year, with the particularly astounding play of the respective candidates. Out of the five I’ve chosen, Thomas has the worst defensive rating (112) and Box Plus-Minus (-3.4) on the list; both statistics are used to gauge a player’s value defensively, with the former gauging his value per 100 possessions and the latter using a positive/negative scale. Thomas is clearly the worst defensive player out of the five, and while his offensive prowess makes up for his defensive deficiencies in Boston, it doesn’t compensate for his deficit compared to the other four players. IT4, for as great as his season was, is out.

That brings us down to four. Out of the four remaining candidates, three are asked to be the primary ball-handlers and general creators of offense for themselves and their teams. The one player who does not fit this description is Kawhi Leonard. Leonard has the lowest assist-per-game (3.5) and rebound-per-game (5.8) figures among the five initial contenders for the award. Part of that is how the Spurs’ culture is built; the organization and scheme are structured so that no player overtly stands out. Coach Gregg Popovich has been quoted as saying that the team looks for players who are “over themselves” and who value the team over their own accolades. While that strategy is a large part of the Spurs’ sustained success, it isn’t conducive to players looking to win MVPs (unless you’re Tim Duncan, who won the award in 2002 and 2003). Leonard falls into that same category: a player who fits perfectly into the Spurs culture. Unfortunately, Popovich’s system doesn’t allow any player, even one as good as Leonard, to have the impact necessary to win the award. This is shown in Leonard’s 31.1% usage rate (a measure of plays run for a certain player while he is on the floor). For as much of a Kawhi Leonard disciple as I am, he’s out.

That whittles this discussion down to the three players I feel are truly deserving of the award. It would be completely fine if any one of Harden, James, or Westbrook took home the trophy; that is a testament to just how good they have all been this season. Honestly, who you think should win between these three likely depends on your interpretation of the award. I’ll go through some criteria that I view as important, particularly in a tight race like this year’s.

Many believe, as do I, that the worst thing one can do with the basketball is turn it over. In this category, Russell Westbrook and James Harden take the biggest hit, as both are averaging well over five turnovers per game. If you take a deeper look, though, you realize that Harden and Westbrook are the primary creators for their respective teams, averaging double-digit assist numbers; in fact, both players assist on more than half of their teams’ baskets when they are on the floor. James’ assist percentage is slightly under 42% for the season, a full 15 points lower than Westbrook’s and eight lower than Harden’s. Also, James only has a slight advantage in assist-to-turnover ratio. These are the figures for each of the three superstars:

  1. LeBron James: 2.128
  2. James Harden: 1.947
  3. Russell Westbrook: 1.929

While LeBron obtains a clear advantage over the other two, it’s hardly disqualifying. Also, I would tend to give Westbrook and Harden a break here; their usage rates of 41.7% and 34.2%, respectively, are appreciably higher than James’ rate of 30.0%. Part of that comparatively low figure is the fact that James has Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, two excellent offensive players at his disposal. However, it’s clear that the Cavaliers require slightly less out of LeBron than the Thunder out of Westbrook or the Rockets out of Harden. So, as much as it pains me to say this, LeBron James, the greatest player in the world, is eliminated from the conversation for Most Valuable Player.

Now, we’re down to just The Beard and The Brodie. Let’s take a step back and first realize that the player I don’t choose to win the award would be an MVP in just about any other season in NBA history. Both had historically great years and should be appreciated for what they’ve done to make an otherwise anticlimactic NBA season interesting. Unfortunately, only one can win my vote for league MVP. Let’s take a closer look.

Westbrook has Harden fully beat in the rebounding category, as he has accumulated 205 more rebounds in 145 fewer minutes of on-court time. Even though Harden is a better shooter than Westbrook, he is shooting only fractionally better from three-point land this season (.347 to .343). Harden does have a better offensive rating, but Westbrook has a slightly better defensive rating. Both are actually having rather similar seasons, the only major difference being that Westbrook averaged 2.6 more rebounds per game than Harden. Harden was also slightly more efficient, as he took roughly five fewer shots per game than Westbrook. I must say, it’s extremely close.

However, this is where things start to turn: Westbrook, for all intents and purposes, smashed the league’s single-season usage rate mark with his performance this season. (The stats from this year aren’t yet official on Basketball-Reference, so it’s still unofficial.) Russ’ aforementioned 41.7% figure is a league-record and three points higher than Kobe Bryant’s 38.7% rate in 2005-06. The way I interpret this is that no other team in the history of the NBA has relied on one player as much as Oklahoma City has on Westbrook. That statistic is something that most people read and pause momentarily to make sure they’re not missing something. But that’s just how reliant the Thunder are on their best player every single night of the year.

And that is why if I had an MVP vote this season, I would use it on Russell Westbrook. When the Thunder lost Kevin Durant in free agency, many assumed that the franchise would take a major hit. While the Thunder are clearly not as good as they were last season, they are still solidly in the Playoffs with 47 wins, just eight fewer from last season. And not only did they lose Durant; GM Sam Presti also dealt the team’s third-best player, Serge Ibaka, to the Magic last season for Victor Oladipo. Then again, Orlando’s old GM took a picture of a whiteboard with the team’s free agent targets this summer, so he’s not exactly one you should trust with making good deals (Hint: the picture got into the wrong hands). The Thunder lost two of their three best players from a season ago and only lost eight wins. Not bad at all.

This is the final thing: Westbrook did something this year that was only done once before in NBA history, and that is average a triple-double. Oscar Robertson did it in 1961-62; it hasn’t been done since until this season. And while you may balk at Westbrook’s high turnover number, consider this: turnovers weren’t tracked during Robertson’s record-setting year. It’s entirely possible that he turned it over just as often as Westbrook; we’ll never know for sure. Forget the MVP discussion for a second; Russell Westbrook did something this season many of us have never seen before. That is historically awesome and his season is nothing anyone should soon forget.

This is also not meant to denigrate the seasons of anyone else in the MVP discussion. All players mentioned in this article have had excellent seasons and are all worthy of consideration and admiration.

When you consider the breadth of Westbrook’s accomplishments, though, he has the best case for the award. If he wins, he will be the first player to win Most Valuable Player on a sub-50 win team since Moses Malone took home the honors after the 1981-82 season; Malone’s Houston Rockets won 46 games that season. Just like this year’s Thunder, Malone single-handedly elevated his supporting cast, which consisted of an aging Elvin Hayes, a number of role players, and a future NBA coach (Mike Dunleavy). Westbrook did the same for this year’s Thunder squad, and his supporting cast may have been even worse than Malone’s.

While we can look at the numbers all we want, debate history, and, frankly, split some hairs along the way, it comes down to this: Russell Westbrook had one of the best seasons ever, one worthy of getting him to the Hall of Fame all on its own. While the others were also historically good, Westbrook had the most outstanding season of all and carried his team to places they would have never been able to dream of otherwise.

If you are reading this and you have an MVP vote: don’t take it lightly. My decision was not made without serious research and deep thought, and yours shouldn’t be, either. Ultimately, you must put the time in to make the decision you feel is best. What I’m saying is this: vote your conscience. Make your own decision.

And I’ll throw in my decision: I’m voting for Russell Westbrook.

**All statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted**