As we prepare for the 2017 NBA Playoffs, many have debated who is this year’s NBA MVP. The main debate has been Russell Westbrook versus James Harden and that’s understandable since these two All-Stars have been phenomenal all year-long. Westbrook is averaging 31.7 points, 10.4 assists, and 10.7 rebounds. Harden is averaging 29.2 points, 11.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds. It’s always fun hearing the competitive banter between NBA fanatics as they make their choice for the MVP, but I will put this argument to bed once and for all.
When I hear about Westbrook becoming the first player in NBA history to average a triple-double in a season since Oscar Robertson in 1962, I am impressed and I acknowledge this accomplishment. It’s truly something special. However, James Harden is 1.9 rebounds away from a triple-double and his team is in a higher seed. Without Harden, the Rockets might miss the playoffs. With Westbrook, the Thunder had to scratch and claw their way to the sixth seed in the Western Conference. Oklahoma City only finished a few games ahead of the Nuggets, Denver is currently ninth in the West. Both Harden and Westbrook have put up similar numbers and are equally clutch with less than five minutes to go in a ball game, but Harden has led his team to a 24-15 road record. Westbrook has led OKC to a 17-22 road mark.
OKC has a 27-22 conference record in 2017 meanwhile the Rockets have a 34-15 record in the West. What do all these records tell us? Despite Westbrook’s astronomical numbers, he doesn’t have as great of an impact on his team as one might think. Harden has fought tooth and nail to keep Houston as the third seed and that has been no easy feat which is something folks should recognize.
I’ve heard people say Harden is having an MVP season because he’s in the system of Mike D’Antoni and I couldn’t disagree more. Harden averaged 29 points in the 2015-2016 season. He shot better from 3-point range last season and in the 2014-2015 season. He’s the primary orchestrator of the Rockets’ offense as he became the team’s starting point guard back when D’Antoni chose Harden for the role. Does the system help Harden? Yes, but we all knew Harden could score, pass and rebound. The system that he’s a part of doesn’t take away from his MVP argument. I thought he should have won the MVP back in the 2014-2015 season when he averaged 27 points and nearly seven assists. He was the fire in that team’s belly and without him wouldn’t have been the 3rd seed that year either. They probably would have missed the postseason.
Houston is 13-11 against playoff teams in the Western Conference and the Cavaliers. Oklahoma City is 11-17 against those teams. The Rockets were 3-0 vs OKC this year, sweeping the season series. Despite the excellence of Russell Westbrook, these numbers suggest that he and the Thunder will exit the playoffs early this season. James Harden could lead the Rockets to Venus and back with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy (NBA MVP Trophy) in one hand and the Larry O’Brien Trophy (NBA Championship Trophy) in the other.