Two changes OKC Thunder guard Russell Westbrook could make to win 2018-19 MVP

NEW YORK - JUNE 26: Russell Westbrook of the OKCThunder after winning the Most Valuable Player of the Year award at the 2017 NBA Awards Show on June 26, 2017 at Basketball City in New York City. Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JUNE 26: Russell Westbrook of the OKCThunder after winning the Most Valuable Player of the Year award at the 2017 NBA Awards Show on June 26, 2017 at Basketball City in New York City. Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Vegas annual MVP odds rank OKC Thunder guard Russell Westbrook 7th, but a few style tweaks could result in Russ collecting his second MVP.

Annual MVP odds were announced this week by Vegas for the NBA’s MVP in 2018-19 with Russell Westbrook logically remaining in the mix. The OKC Thunder have two players in consideration as Paul George also ranked among the potential MVP winners. Odds courtesy of ODDS SHARK. 

Top Group:

At the top of the list is LeBron James as he plays his first season in the Western Conference with the LA Lakers. His odds are extremely high at 4 to 1.

Half of the top five players ranked would represent first time winners. Of those Anthony Davis ranks second (9/2 odds). Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo ranks third (11 to 2 odds), and, new Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard ranks fifth (8 to 1 odds).

Several previous winners join James as potential winners such as James Harden (5 to 1), Kevin Durant (9 to 1), Westbrook (15 to 1) and Stephen Curry (16 to 1).

Other players vying for their first MVP include OKC Thunder wing man Paul George (125 to 1), Joel Embiid and Kyrie Irving (both 16 to 1). Filling out the top 15 ranked players are Ben Simmons (22 to 1), Damian Lillard (40to 1), Karl-Anthony Towns and Donovan Mitchell (both 50 to 1) and John Wall in the 15th spot  (75 to 1).

*Numbers based on updated Odds Shark site stats on August 14 (odds in tweet below are updated to August 15th).

Logistics for LeBron to win:

To suggest LeBron James could win isn’t surprising. Rather, it’s the implication of what James would need to produce in order to grab his fifth regular season MVP award. The predominant constant is the MVP comes from a team ranked in the top two of three of the division.

Perhaps James would get a wider berth given how packed the Western Conference is and how many additional wins the Lakers would need over last season’s performance. Another key factor is how much a one player superstar has to do versus teams like the Warriors who have two previous MVP winners on the roster.

Why first timers have an edge:

Like James players like Davis, Antetokounmpo and Leonard are considered to be the only superstar on their teams. Should any of these players lead their squads to one of the top two seeds in their respective conferences it would enhance their shot at winning. For that very reason if Leonard returns healthy his shot at winning would be arguably easier in the less competitive Eastern Conference.

Plus, there is a real advantage with the media voters who love to jump on a new horse to ride. Much like fans love to pull for the underdog, pundits aren’t dissimilar. That’s why if Anthony Davis were to lead his Pelicans to a home court seed while also posting career numbers his potential of winning increases.

Multiple team superstars make winning difficult:

Teams like the Warriors and Celtics could very well take the top place in their conferences, but that won’t guarantee they take the MVP award. James Harden accomplished the win last season, but in fairness he had been a bridesmaid in two of the previous three seasons and the fact Houston bested the Warriors as top dog helped his cause.

For a Warriors or Celtics player to win they would need to take the top spot in their Conference and post career bests along the way.

Westbrook could win by changing his game:

More from Thunderous Intentions

Although Westbrook has Paul George as a running mate the OKC Thunder won’t be viewed through the same lens as the Warriors or Celtics. This is partly because they reside in the West and George hasn’t ascended to being recognized as a top five player. Nor do the OKC Thunder boast the depth of the Celtics who could find Jayson Tatum rising to compete for this award in the near future.

If Westbrook led OKC to first or second in the West that would increase his odds since OKC aren’t widely considered to capture one of these seeds.

When diving into Russ winning a second MVP consider how crazy it is no one would be surprised if Westbrook posted a third successive season averaging a triple-double.

That speaks to Westbrook’s individual brilliance. Sure, you’ll get the critics who cite his stat chasing. Yet, the fact remains if it is so easy, then why aren’t more players coming close to accomplishing the feat? Particularly on teams where one player is tasked with carrying the load.

Outside of the team record there are two things Westbrook could change which would increase his chances of winning MVP. First of all, improvements to his perimeter shooting efficiency would be a great start. Entering his 11th season his career best efficiency came in his MVP season when he shot 34.3 percent.

The greater change would need to occur within his style of play. More specifically, if Westbrook could showcase the ability to play off the ball it would offer the Thunder more variety in their offense. This is where the addition of Dennis Schoder comes into the equation.

Critics of Westbrook don’t believe he has the ability to adapt his game play and is prone to needing to orchestrate the play. Considering he played with Kevin Durant and James Harden with success that might be an unfair conclusion.

Trust is obviously a contributing factor, but the OKC Thunder have a full season to work out the kinks. Let’s keep an eye on how much playing time Schroder gets with Westbrook. Another hint will be the minutes Schroder plays at clutch time.

Still, it’s not implausible, and knowing Westbrook there is nothing he appreciates more than proving his skeptics wrong. Thunderous Intentions will keep a close eye on these two specific areas of Russ’ game as the season progresses.

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As for George his opportunity to claim the hardware seems like an uphill battle. With that, watch for an upcoming article by Alex Mcewen who’ll dive deeper into the Paul George MVP debate.