As the season draws to an end and the MVP voting begins, James Harden has begun his slander campaign against Russell Westbrook.
“I thought winning was the most important thing,” Harden said.
Indeed, Westbrook has drawn both applause and criticism during his campaign for MVP for so-called stat-chasing behavior. The Phoenix Suns deliberately gave him space in the fourth quarter of their game April 7 to tempt him towards shooting and away from the assists he needed to tie Oscar Robertson’s triple-double record. Meanwhile, Kobe, who has not historically been known for his prosocial ball movement, came to Westbrook’s defense when the media questioned whether Westbrook was passing up open shots in favor of tallying assists.
Personally, I have never been a fan of stat-chasing. When Peyton Manning was consistently throwing one-yard touchdown passes in his 2013 campaign, and Devon Booker was heaving threes in the final minute against the Celtics with his team well out of range, I thought to myself, “this is the kind of thing non-winners do.” For the record, Manning’s two rings don’t qualify him as a winner in the eyes of a die-hard Pats fan.
Up until the Phoenix game, however, I had no sense that Westbrook was in any way “chasing” Robertson’s record. To me, this campaign was a product of the Durant loss. With more touches per game, it seemed logical to me that Westbrook would have to take an even greater hand in the offense, and with the subtracted length of Durant on the defensive side, Russ would have to help out more on the boards.
What irks me most about Harden’s comments is that he is implicitly stating that Russ’ so-called stat-chasing has been detrimental to the team. The
Thunder have secured the sixth seed in the
Western Conference, holding a 46-34 record with two games to play in the regular season. The Thunder have a 33-9 record in the 42 games Westbrook has notched a triple double. To drive home the point, the Thunder are 13-25 when Westbrook doesn’t “stat-chase.” I think I’ve
sufficiently driven home the point that the Thunder need Westbrook to be all over the floor to win games.
Now, on to debunking the myth of Harden’s supremacy. Harden plays for Mike D’Antoni … a coach who come to be known as an offensive genius, at the expense of his team’s defense. What a perfect match for James Harden. So let’s put defense to the side for a minute, and compare the offensive output of each player. Westbrook has the ball in his hands significantly more often than Harden because of the Thunder’s perceived lack of quality other options, while Harden runs the point for the second highest scoring team in the league (115.25 ppg). Let’s assume these two balance each other out. Looking at MVP, we are looking for most value. The most valuable part of the game is crunch time, defined as the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime when the score is still within five.
The “King of the Fourth” (Isaiah Thomas) is second in the league with 223 points in crunch time. Harden comes in at No. 9 with 150 points in crunch time. Can you guess who’s first? That’s right, Westbrook. He’s tallied an absurd 247 points in crunch time.
While these numbers might be inflated because the Thunder have had more close games down the stretch, it still gives me faith that Westbrook has had plenty of practice for when the time comes in the playoffs (hopefully he’ll hit a
game-winner on Harden in the first round).