Combine a 6’3” point guard with enough aggression and athleticism to dunk on a rim with a steel lid, and a 6’5” shooting guard whose beard draws more free throws than half the league and you’ll get one of the closest MVP races in NBA history. Russell Westbrook and James Harden, two former teammates, are battling it out for the biggest individual trophy a player can receive. These two players have extremely strong cases for the award but only one can win.
James Harden wins this pretty easily considering the Houston Rockets are eight games up on the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Rockets have been one of the more impressive teams in the league. They rank second in points and assists and have recently broken the record for most three pointers made in a season. They run an offensive system that’s mostly pick and rolls, James Harden, and throwing up three pointers even with defenders right next to them. Their coach, Mike D’Antoni, is surely the favorite for Coach of the Year due to the teams’ improvements, and they also have the two biggest sixth man of the year candidates in Louis Williams and Eric Gordon. The Thunder, however, have a very different team, they don’t have much three point shooting. Their offense is mostly Russell Westbrook, Russell Westbrook, Russell Westbrook, and yes more Russell Westbrook; calling their roster poorly constructed would be an understatement considering their second leading scorer barely averages more points than half of what Russell Westbrook averages, he’s very inconsistent, and isn’t much of a shooter.
If you look at the averages for these two players you’ll see that Westbrook’s are slightly better with season-long averages of 31.9 Points per Game, 10.4 Assists per Game, and 10.7 Rebounds per Game versus hardens 29.3 Points per Game, 11.3 Assists per Game, and 8.1 Rebounds per Game. Westbrook is averaging a triple double, a feat only Oscar Robertson has accomplished, and he’s doing so playing at a much faster pace along with playing a lot more minutes per game. He’s currently tied for the most triple-doubles in a season at 41 and with 5 games left in the season he will surely break the record. Westbrooks triple-doubles are the only thing keeping his team from competing with the Lakers and Suns, for ping pong balls. The Thunder have a record of 33-9 when Westbrook has a triple double and a 14-25 record when he doesn’t. He’s also broken numerous triple-double records such as the first perfect triple-double, when he posted one without missing a shot, and the highest scoring triple double, when he went for 57 points to go along with 13 rebounds and 11 assists in a performance so amazing opposing magic fans couldn’t help but cheer. Harden has also put up his fair share of triple doubles becoming the first player in NBA history to post a 50-point triple-double and doing it twice this season before Westbrook later joined him. Neither Westbrook nor Harden have scored less than double digits in a game this season. Harden has had two 50+ point games and another 9 games with 40+ points, while Westbrook has three 50+ point games and another 13 40+ point games. Even with those high scoring numbers both candidates have proven that they are truly do-it-all players recording multiple games with 15+ assist, with each bringing 10 games total with 15+ assists, while Westbrook has a season high of 22 and Harden has a season high of 17.
Considering the media votes for MVP sometimes a good story can help make an MVP’s case, and these two guards have stories that Academy Awards are made of. A redemption from disappointment and a story of revenge for abandonment. James Harden’s Rockets badly underachieved last season, and even though he was still James Harden, he received a good amount of criticism for it. He did take some of the blame, while also shelling some out to Dwight Howard and that notorious Kardashian curse, and he recognized that he has to be better; and he has been better in his leadership, communication, and energy. The Rockets place as the undisputed third best team in not just the Western Conference but the entire NBA reflects that. They are much improved from the 8th place team they were last year. While up north in the same year, Russell Westbrook and his Oklahoma City Thunder were up 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals, largely due to him and his partner in crime Kevin Durant. However, they would go on to lose that series to the Golden State warriors and this wasn’t even the worst thing to happen that year because on the 4th of July Kevin Durant would go on to join that same Warriors who just beat them.
Durant left Westbrook vulnerable without even calling to explain why he left and this put Russel in a bad situation when media members started to question the Thunder point guard. Naturally fingers began to face him making it seem like it was his fault Durant left. As it would turn out to the surprise of many, Westbrook would emerge the hero as he agreed to sign for an additional two years and carry this troubled small market team to the playoffs.
This MVP argument is breaking barriers on amounts of hair splitting with both players going back and forth with high scoring triple double games and clutch plays resulting in wins. MVP voters are going to have an incredibly hard time deciding a winner with the closest thing to a perfect decision being the first co-MVPs in the history of basketball. However, if I had to choose one even though leaving Harden’s name off this seasons MVP trophy would be a crime, I’ll take the life sentence in jail if I can have Westbrooks name on it. Westbrooks historical season is made even more impressive when realizing that he’s carrying a roster that isn’t too talented and doesn’t fit his game at all to a place they weren’t even supposed to be near when the best player he has ever played with left him to join his rivals in San Francisco.