NBA MVP Race: Harden

Russell Westbrook has had a phenomenal season, granted, but he does not deserve the NBA MVP award for the 2016-2017 season. The rightful winner is the James “The Beard” Harden.

We need to understand Westbrook’s season in a clearer context. Westbrook has been stats-chasing, which means that it looks as if his production is more for the purpose of bolstering his own statistical acumen rather than compiling wins. For example, last week when the Phoenix Suns played the OKC Thunder and Westbrook had the chance to secure averaging a triple-double for the season, many Suns players observed that “he was passing up open shots late to try to pick up those remaining two assists” ( Worth noting is that the Thunder were blown out by 21 in this game by the Suns, who are last in the Western Conference. This particular game is symptomatic of Westbrook’s issue as an MVP candidate.

Whatever Westbrook does, however, he makes many jaws drop in the crowd; the Thunder just do not reflect his excellence. Sure, they’re going to make the playoffs a few games over .500, but Westbrook does not make his teammates better like Harden does. Harden’s teammates have higher player efficiency rating (PER) for the most part than Westbrook’s teammates, and Harden has sixty-four more assists than Westbrook this season. Harden’s remarkable ability to make his teammates better has actually made the 2016-2017 Houston Rockets one of the best offenses in NBA history. You hear that, Quinn? Houston is 11th in NBA history in offensive rating, notably higher than the 2015-2016 Golden State Warriors, who went 73-9. Westbrook’s gaping lack of synergy compared to Harden’s leads to significant losses for Westbrook’s Thunder. A mark about a true MVP is that he makes his teammates around him better, catalyzing the effort to accumulate wins.

Harden said it best: “I thought winning was what this is about. I’m not going to get into depths, but I thought winning is the most important thing [about winning MVP].” Well, James, I’d be happy to get into depths. Winning is critical to earning NBA MVP. With sports like baseball, where you play so many games and it is difficult to make your teammates better, giving the MVP to someone excellent on a lousy team, like Mike Trout on the Angels, is understandable. However, with basketball, MVPs have always been awarded to players who have led their team to a very high amount of wins. As of writing this article, James Harden’s Rockets have won 54 games this season as opposed to 46 by Westbrook’s Thunder. I have been rifling through NBA record books, and it looks like, since the implementation of the 82-game regular season, no one on a team with as few wins as the 2016-2017 Oklahoma City Thunder has ever won the NBA MVP. Considering the league’s reluctance to give the MVP to a player on a team without even 50 wins, Westbrook should not get this award.

Even though Westbrook has dazzled with a record-setting amount of triple-doubles this season, as always, we need to be skeptical. Westbrook’s 42 triple-doubles, which is now an NBA record, is as big a statistical anomaly as I’ve seen. He is a freak, no doubt, but this performance has totally diminished Harden’s similarly stellar triple-double abilities. In the past two seasons, Westbrook has led the NBA in triple-doubles, with 11 and then 18. This season, Harden has 21 triple-doubles. In any other season when Westbrook was not stat-chasing, the two would be side by side at the top of that list.

Don’t put too much emphasis on Russell Westbrook’s record-breaking performance, because it distracts from the reality that James Harden is more deserving of the NBA MVP award.