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Russell Westbrook puts dent in MVP race with historic February

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Westbrook may be a basketball cyborg.

The statement may have seemed like fanciful hyperbole for most of his strong season, but it's become more and more likely of an explanation as the year has progressed. It gained credence on Friday when Westbrook, after taking a knee to the face, didn't bruise or bleed - he dented.

Westbrook also recorded his third consecutive triple-double on Friday, becoming just the fourth player in the last 20 seasons to do so. It was his fifth on the year and fourth in a ridiculous, historic February that's helped lift the Oklahoma City Thunder into a playoff position in the loaded Western Conference, largely without reigning MVP Kevin Durant.

In 12 February games, Westbrook averaged an obscene 31.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 10.3 assists, joining Oscar Robertson as the only players to average at least 30-9-10 over an entire calendar month.

The month-long almost-triple-double average also included an All-Star Game MVP, where he came one point shy of matching Wilt Chamberlain's All-Star scoring record.

It's not like Westbrook has been playing looter in the riot with Durant sidelined, either. While he's sometimes unfairly derided for using too many possessions, Westbrook has been hyper-efficient with the league's second-best player efficiency rating at 29.3. That he's done so with the league's highest usage rate is incredible, as efficiency is expected to decline at a usage rate as extreme as 38 percent.

That usage doesn't suggest Westbrook is hogging the ball - he also leads the league in assist percentage, assisting on 48.1 percent of teammate field goals when he's on the floor. The combination of his possession usage and assist percentage is historic, with Westbrook impacting a far higher percentage of his team's plays than any other player since such things have been recorded.

Most importantly, the Thunder are winning. They went 9-3 in February, including 5-2 without Durant for the month. On the season, they're 10-8 when Durant is out but Westbrook plays, a big reason they're 32-27 with a half-game cushion for a playoff spot.

Westbrook missed 15 games near the start of the season, too, but he's now played enough he's firmly in the loaded MVP discussion.

Steph Curry and James Harden have been excellent over full seasons, and LeBron James has been very good in similarly limited action, but Westbrook may have done enough to elbow his way into the mix, assuming the dent he suffered on Friday doesn't sideline him long.

The MVP award rarely goes to players who've missed a fifth of the season, but it's tough to argue against Westbrook's candidacy. He's averaging 26.5 points (second only to Harden), 6.8 rebounds, 8.1 assists and two steals, ranks second in PER and has climbed to 12th in Win Shares and ninth in ESPN's Real Plus-Minus-based Wins Above Replacement.

That he's risen so high on the leaderboards after missing so much time is remarkable. He's putting up one of the gaudiest stat lines ever - he'd join Robertson, James and Michael Jordan as the only players to ever average 25-6-8 if he keeps it up - and he's the primary reason the Thunder have succeeded in the absence of the previous MVP.

The meme may have become reality:

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