It’s No Fantasy: DraftKings Selects Russell Westbrook for MVP

In the 1961–62 NBA season, Oscar Robertson became the first and only player in NBA history to finish a season averaging a triple-double. With Russell Westbrook placing the uniqueness of that accomplishment in serious jeopardy, many would assume the 2016-17 NBA MVP is a foregone conclusion; but this is a special season.

As a DraftKings’ co-founder and an avid fan, from Day 1 I’ve overseen the creation and expansion of the DFS contests we offer, seeking to challenge our players to maximize the value of each roster spot in every lineup. I’ve been watching the MVP debate heat up over recent weeks, with various arguments being made for Westbrook, James Harden, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard.

It is known that the NBA MVP award, over time, has increasingly become a recognition of individual offensive achievement. Strong defense is not a path to the MVP. With that trend in mind, we should account for everything trackable that a player does individually to help his team win basketball games on the court – including points, rebounds, assists and more. I believe you must also consider the cost of that production; does a player deliver above and beyond what is expected? There is a stat that wraps all that up nicely: Fantasy Points per Dollar, using DraftKings salary data.

Let’s break the field down into Contenders and Pretenders.


Contenders

Russell Westbrook’s stats speak for themselves.

“RWB” makes every second on the court count. At 1.89 and 65.9 respectively, he produces more Fantasy Points per Minute and averages the highest Fantasy Points per Game than any of the other three contenders. Even more importantly for Westbrook fans on DraftKings, however, is that his production per dollar of DraftKings salary (or NBA salary, for that matter) is higher than the rest of his peers in the MVP race at 5.31 per DK$1K.

NBA fans playing DraftKings contests have clearly noticed the trend, as Westbrook has been in 25.6 percent of DraftKings lineups, the highest pick percentage throughout the season of any of the four contenders for the MVP title.

James Harden is still in the hunt.

Most other seasons, Harden would be a lock for NBA MVP. Let’s be honest – you can’t go wrong with either of these guys, fantasy or otherwise. Harden is the only one in the group that comes close to Westbrook in terms of Fantasy Points per Minute and DraftKings salary-based production at 1.64 and 5.06 per DK$1K. Harden is behind, but the season isn’t over yet. Because he remains just a shade off Westbrook’s pace, the NBA MVP race could tighten if Westbrook goes into a slump or Harden catches fire down the stretch.


Pretenders

Is LeBron James overrated?

Based on production versus DraftKings salary this season – yes. Of the four, LeBron spends the most minutes on the court, but he also has a significantly lower average return on investment – his Fantasy production vs. DraftKings salary sits at 4.89 per DK$1K. The same can be said of this real-life salary spent by Cleveland, where he has the lowest production per million dollars spent of all four MVP candidates.

While some of LeBron’s production might have been diluted by the presence of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, it is clear the load on LeBron to carry the team to wins is significantly lighter than with the Contenders.

And then there’s Kawhi Leonard…

There’s a sleeper “Kawhi Leonard for MVP” case to be made if you heavily factor in cost in your definition of ‘valuable.’ Leonard consistently produces at an elite level – at 1.16 and 4.52 per DK$1K, respectively, he has nearly identical fantasy production to James by minute and by salary. With an average DraftKings salary of almost $4K less than Westbrook and a real-world salary that’s about $6M less than LeBron, Leonard offers a value that the others simply cannot.


And the winner is…?

Absent a major meltdown in the final weeks, I believe there is no debate around this season’s NBA MVP. Westbrook is having an absurd year with 32 triple-doubles (twice as many as Harden), he may be the first player in over 50 years to average a triple-double and his DraftKings Salary based production is stronger than other legitimate contenders.

We’ll find out soon enough, but I know I won’t just be watching all four of these guys down the stretch. Every day, fantasy players on DraftKings predict which players have “MVP value” for a given slate, in the hunt for contest victories. There will be many make-or-break performances, from these four athletes and others, that will turn the fate of DFS contests now and into the playoffs. Enjoy the thrills that will come with the conclusion of this NBA season!


DraftKings NBA MVP Data

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*in thousands of dollars
**in millions of dollars
***as determined by DraftKings points