You the Real MVP: Why James Harden, not Russell Westbrook, should be NBA MVP

You the Real MVP: Why James Harden, not Russell Westbrook, should be NBA MVP

Henry Schweber

Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if you stopped reading as soon as saw the title of this article.

Russell Westbrook, point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder, is averaging a triple-double through the first quarter of the season. If he were to maintain his averages (30.9 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 11.3 assists) throughout the entire season, he would be the first player to average a triple-double for an entire season since Oscar Robertson did it in his legendary 1961-62 season.

I understand how crazy his numbers are, but Houston Rockets newly converted point guard James Harden isn’t too far off.

Averaging 28.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 11.9 assists and 3.1 three pointers per game, his statistics are still mightily impressive. Where he trumps Westbrook, however, is his efficiency. For far too long Harden has been known for taking many bad shots, such as long two pointers or shots in traffic with plenty of time remaining on the shot clock. He has actually improved immensely in this regard, reducing the frequency that these bad habits pop up. This has led to very respectable shooting percentages of 45 percent from the field and 36 percent from beyond the arc, along with a stellar 83 percent clip from the free throw line.

Westbrook’s percentages are lower across the board, albeit not by much, but both average a whopping 5.5 turnovers per game, which comes with having to shoulder so much of the offensive load on one’s team.

James Harden has turned into an elite point guard for the Houston Rockets (Courtesy of WikiCommons).
James Harden has turned into an elite point guard for the Houston Rockets (Courtesy of WikiCommons).

When looking at supporting casts, however, it seems as though Russell Westbrook has more talent surrounding him, yet the Thunder are a half game back in playoff seeding from the Rockets. With a top 10 shooting guard in Victor Oladipo, a rising star in center Steven Adams and a plethora of shooters off the bench, the Thunder are fairly well-equipped to deal with the loss of Kevin Durant.

The Rockets, however, have a different situation. Starting shooting guard Eric Gordon was a former flame-out in New Orleans, with serious injury concerns, yet he’s bounced back in a big way from having Harden clear out passing lanes for him rather than Ish Smith and Tim Frazier, knocking down an astounding three 3-pointers per game at a 39 percent clip. Alongside him are journeymen forwards Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson, and a young big man in Clint Capela, whose offensive game is still very much a work in progress.

It’s also fair to wonder whether or not Westbrook occasionally falls victim to stat-padding: the phenomenon by which a player only passes when there’s a chance for assists, or fights with his teammates to get that rebound in the box score next to his name.

Listen, there’s no doubt about the great impacts that both of these players have on their respective teams and how night in night out they make their presence known on the court, but just because Westbrook is averaging that prestigious triple-double shouldn’t make him a lock for the MVP. MVP stands for most valuable player, not necessarily the player with the highest per game totals.

Even if you feel that Westbrook deserves the nod over Harden, you should also take into account how close this race actually is, and appreciate greatness when it’s seen.