The Santa Clara
March 2, 2017
With just over month and a half left of the regular season, the NBA MVP race has boiled down to two players: James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Many believe this race to be neck-and-neck, and in reality it probably is. But James Harden is far more deserving.
At face value, Harden and Westbrook’s stats are nearly identical. Harden is averaging 28.8 points per game; Westbrook is at 31.0. Harden averages 11.3 assists; Westbrook is one assist short at 10.3. But Russell has the slight edge on the boards over his former teammate, averaging 10.6 rebounds per game compared to Harden’s 8.1.
But when you take a step deeper into the statistics, Harden begins to separate himself from the triple-double machine. Harden is a more efficient shooter than Westbrook and is lethal from beyond the arc.
Harden also has a higher win share, which measures the number of wins contributed by a player. Harden scores an 11.6 while Westbrook is at 8.5. And stats don’t tell the whole story. To much surprise, Harden has the Houston Rockets sitting in third in the Western Conference. Meanwhile Westbrook sits in the seventh seed, six and a half games behind Houston.
It’s easy to point out that Westbrook is bound to be near the bottom of the playoff seeding without Durant, but by no means is Harden surrounded by talent. Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon are playing at a high level and the addition of Lou Williams should bolster the already explosive Houston offense, but this supporting cast still falls woefully short to the talent of the Warriors, Spurs and Cavaliers. Nonetheless, Harden has restored the Rockets to respectability.
Westbrook, on the other hand, is essentially a one-man team. It’s impressive that he’s carried the Thunder this far, but his stats are seriously inflated when he controls practically every possession.
Harden’s stats are nearly as impressive, but they’re not founded on selfishness. The Rockets have a free-flowing offense under Mike D’Antoni, averaging 25.5 assists per game, good for second in the league—Oklahoma City ranks 25th.
Regardless of who takes home the trophy, the NBA has to fix this award going forward. The issue is that the criteria for MVP is far too vague. How do you define “most valuable”? It’s certainly not the best player, as neither Westbrook nor Harden have cracked the absolute top tier of the NBA reserved for the likes of LeBron James and Stephen Curry.
At the end of the day, this award can turn petty. Both Harden and Westbrook are playing at a ridiculously high-level; neither of their accomplishments are negated without an MVP.
And to think that both could still be on the Thunder if GM Sam Presti didn’t pull off the dumbest trade in NBA history when he gave away Harden to the Rockets. Any way you cut it, that trade was unforgivable; Presti should have been fired on the spot. But that’s beside the point.
Westbrook and Harden will continue to dominate the league, at least in the regular season. Both will probably have at least one MVP when all is said and done.
But if either wants to move past the individual accolades and win a championship, they’ll have to be willing to step into a slightly smaller spotlight in order to co-exist with another superstar.
Andrew Slap is a senior Communication major.