NBA: Russell Westbrook deserves MVP gong, says Enes Kanter

Oklahoma City Thunder's Enes Kanter watching members of the Down Syndrome Association Singapore shooting hoops at its Bishan centre. The Turkish NBA player engages in philanthropy through his foundation.
Oklahoma City Thunder's Enes Kanter watching members of the Down Syndrome Association Singapore shooting hoops at its Bishan centre. The Turkish NBA player engages in philanthropy through his foundation.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Throughout the National Basketball Association (NBA) regular season, Oklahoma City Thunder's Enes Kanter had a front-row seat to history unfolding. He watched as Russell Westbrook notched a record-breaking 42 triple-doubles and became only the second man to average more than 10 points, assists and rebounds in a season.

That level of consistency over 82 games means his team-mate must be the clear favourite when the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award is given out on June 26, Kanter said.

The Turkish centre, who was in town to visit the Down Syndrome Association (Singapore) with his Enes Kanter Light Foundation, added: "Whenever he (Westbrook) goes out there he always tries to win. He did an unbelievable job."

Critics have noted Westbrook's ball-hogging (he averaged 24 shots and made 5.4 turnovers a game) in a mediocre team (the Thunder finished 47-35 and lost 1-4 to the Houston Rockets in the first round of the play-offs), making the case for players like Houston's James Harden, San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland's LeBron James.

But the Thunders guard offered more than just numbers on a statistics sheet, said Kanter, who averaged 14.3 points off the bench this term, a higher return than his 11.3 career average. He said: "Russ makes everyone else in the team better, not just himself."

If Westbrook is named the MVP, he will be the winner from the lowest seeded team since Karl Malone won the MVP in 1999 after leading his Utah Jazz side to third in the Western Conference. The Thunder finished sixth this regular season.

There was no debate over last season's MVP winner Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry. He swept all 131 first-place votes last term.

A STAR THAT MAKES OTHERS SHINE

Russ makes everyone else in the team better, not just himself.''

ENES KANTER, Oklahoma City centre, on his team-mate Russell Westbrook's influence on their team.

In this season's play-offs, Curry led the Warriors to a perfect 9-0 run, including Sunday's Western Conference Finals Game One win over the Spurs, who had to cope without Leonard in the second half.

Despite the likely continued absence of the forward, Kanter was backing the team from Texas to prevail. He said: "The Spurs have a pretty good chance. Kawhi got hurt and they lost by two points. Yes they were up by 25 points but I think in the other games they're going to do well."

Second seeds Spurs (61-21) have a 2-1 regular-season record over the top-seeded Warriors (67-15).

Whoever progresses will probably face James and company in the NBA Finals, said Kanter.

He added: "Cleveland are going to beat either Washington (Wizards) or Boston (Celtics). I want the Spurs and Cleveland in the Finals."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2017, with the headline 'Westbrook deserves MVP gong: Kanter'. Print Edition | Subscribe