It has been clear since July 4th, 2016 that Russell Westbrook was going to do something no one else had ever done in the NBA before. That was the day that Kevin Durant, his best friend and teammate, betrayed him, the team, and the city, for the team that prevented them from going to the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors. This season, the team entered as a possible lottery-draft-pick team, but Westbrook’s record-breaking season has propelled his team into the playoffs, which includes becoming the Triple-Double King. James Harden, on the other hand, has been waiting since last April, as his team failed to make the playoffs as an underwhelming yet star-studded team last year. Harden took it upon himself to be a team-first player and drive his team to the playoffs. Along the way, he has had career high numbers in points, rebounds, and assists. So, who should win the MVP?
Who Will Win and Why?
Westbrook has just been incredible to say the least, and has turned a team that should be in the bottom five in the NBA into a playoff team. While his team may be worse than Harden’s, and the fact that they may not get through the first round, this is an individual award. The numbers do not lie with Westbrook. He has 42 triple-doubles, a record that has been broken after 55 years. He’s averaging 31.9 PPG, 10.7 RPG, and 10.4 APG in just 34.4 minutes on average per game. He has career-high free throw percentages, attempts, and makes (84.5%, 10.5 attempts per game, 8.9 makes per game). He is the only player in NBA history to average 40-12-11 in a 3-game span. He is the only player in NBA history to record at least 100 points, 30 boards, and 30 assists in the first 3 games of the regular season. He is the only player in NBA history to have a triple-double and have a perfect shooting game (field goals and free throws). He is the only player in NBA history with five straight 30-point triple-doubles in a season. He has the record for most points with a triple double in a game with 57. Lastly, he is the second player ever to average a triple-double in a season since Oscar Robertson 55 years back.
Harden doesn’t have any number to compare. Harden is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, and assists (29.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 11.2 APG). He has led the team to a top-10 offense in NBA history. He helps his team lead the game in time of possessions with his ability to draw the defense to himself. He assists on 27 points per game, and scores 29 points per game, as he and Isaiah Thomas are going to be the first players to do so. He also has led his team to an NBA record for 3-pointers attempted, and made. In terms of defense, Harden has been better, but he doesn’t really play much defense besides contesting shots, as he contests around 4 more shots than Westbrook. However, Harden has set an NBA record for most turnovers in a season (he broke his own record from last year), and even though his team is more effective, Harden’s Rockets are only 2.7 points better per 100 possessions with Harden on the court, whereas Westbrook’s Thunder are 13.1 points better per 100 possessions with Westbrook on the floor.
Now, after Westbrook broke the record for most triple-doubles in a season, Harden made an interesting comment about MVP. He said “I thought winning is what this is all about,” signifying and pleading his case for MVP. However, while his team is 8 wins better than Westbrook’s Thunder, his comment is incorrect. If it was really ‘all about winning’, then we should be talking about Kevin Durant and Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs, LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, or Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics. However, the MVP is the Most Valuable Player award, not most Most Winning Player award. In the end, I believe that Russell Westbrook will win the NBA MVP over James Harden, as Harden really hasn’t done enough as an individual to be great and help his team out.
Harden and Westbrook are meeting in the first round of the NBA playoffs, but I do not believe that the result will determine the outcome of the MVP race at all. Westbrook will play his heart out in the playoffs and dazzle us just like in the regular season (and yes, his triple-doubles will continue). Harden needs to get a 100-point triple-double to win MVP in my opinion, because he is too far behind Westbrook to make his case. Even a 100-point game could be too little, too late, but the Harden vs. Westbrook matchup will be entertaining for sure.
All stats and data from FiveThirtyEight, ESPN, Wikipedia, CBS Sports, Slam Online, and the Washington Post.