Who’s the MVP?


Jesse Marty

This year has been a very good year for basketball. There are teams and players having historical years all across the league. But there are two players that stick out the most in most people’s eyes-Those players are James Harden and Russell Westbrook. James Harden has led his team to so much more success than anyone ever thought he would this season and Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple double, something that hasn’t been done since 1961. The race for MVP this season has basically been a two man race. So how do you choose between these two historically good seasons and reward one over the other? Quite simply actually.


Let’s talk about team success, because yes the MVP is an individual award but team success is a big factor in taking home that MVP trophy. The Russell Westbrook led Thunder finished 47-35 and did very well themselves. Meanwhile though, James Harden’s Rockets finished 55-27, far exceeding everyone’s expectations. Good enough for the third best record in the league. After losing Dwight Howard from the team fin the offseason and not really adding any big names no one really expected the Rockets to amount to anything. Especially not the third best record in the league. At the start of the year, Fox Sports released an article that stated the win expectancy of each team in the NBA. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s win expectancy was 45.5, they finished with 47 wins. So they exceeded expectations but not by much. The Houston Rocket’s win expectancy on the other hand was only 41.5, they finished with 55 wins! They shattered the expectancy and are going far beyond that. A lot of that credit has to go to James Harden. He was the leader on this team and was the one who led his team. When it comes to team success between these two, the edge has to go to James Harden.


Now let’s talk about the numbers, the best part. Both Westbrook, and Harden are putting up video game numbers. Russell Westbrook is putting up numbers that have never been seen before and will most likely never be duplicated. He broke Oscar Robertson’s triple double record with 42 triple doubles in a season. Russell is also averaging insane numbers with 31.6 Points (leads NBA), 10.4 Assists, and 10.6 Rebounds (leads all guards) per game. He is doing this on 42% shooting from the field and 34% shooting from 3 (career high). Those numbers are hard to compete with. Any other year, I don’t think there would be any debate. But James Harden’s numbers definitely put up a fight. This year Harden’s numbers are video game numbers, numbers you would only see in a video game. A historically good season as well. He is averaging 29.1 points, 11.2 assists (leads NBA), and 8.1 rebounds per game. Maybe not as appealing to the eyes as Westbrook’s numbers, but still astonishing in their own remark. He also became the first player to ever score and assist on 2,000 points according to SportsCenter. He is doing all this while shooting 44% from the field and 34% from the 3 point line. Like I said before, both having historically great seasons, but since Russell is averaging a triple double, something that hasn’t been done in 50 plus years, I’ll give the edge to him when it comes to the numbers.


But, if we take a deeper look into the numbers it tells something a little bit different. Russell Westbrook has a very high usage rate at 42.5. Actually that is the highest usage rate in the history of the league. Usage rate is an estimate of the team plays used when the player is on the court. James Hardens usage rate is seven percent less than Russell’s usage rate. So there’s no doubt that if Harden had that usage rate he would average a triple double too. Not to take away from the accomplishment, because no matter how you do it, averaging a triple double is amazing. This just might mean that his season by the numbers wasn’t much better than Hardens. Hardens true shooting percentage (TS%) is also much better than Westbrooks. True shooting percentage is calculated by doing the following Points / (2 * (Field Goal Attempts + 0.44 * FT Attempts)). Westbrooks TS% this season was only 55% while Hardens was 61%. 6 percent difference is quite a bit when you’re talking about efficiency. When you take a deeper look into the numbers, the gap between Russell and Harden get’s even smaller.


Harden had a historical season in his own right. He had a long list of accomplishments this season that made history. He had 2,400 points and had 900 assists which no one has done in the past 40 years. He is averaging career highs with 29.2 points, 11.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds this season. Only Oscar Robertson has averaged 28 PPG, 11 APG, and 7 RPG in a single NBA season.Oscar Robertson is one of the greatest point guards of all time, who played throughout the 60’s. Harden also averaged 29 points on fewer than 19 shots per game. Adrian Dantley was the only other player in history to be so efficient when scoring in a season. As previously mentioned, he is the only player in NBA history to score and assist on 2,000 points in a season. Westbrooks season has been amazing– but these numbers show that Harden’s season is MVP worthy too.


Let’s take a look at the team’s rosters outside of the stars. The Rockets outside of Harden have a core of Patrick Beverley, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, Clint Capela to round of the starting lineup and Lou Williams serving as the six man after the trade with the Lakers at the trade deadline. The Thunder outside of Westbrook are made up of Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson, Taj Gibson, and Steven Adams as starters with Enes Kanter coming of the bench. Harden, you could say, has a better supporting cast around him with an uber amount of 3 point scorers around him and better defenders. Westbrook doesn’t have much shooting around him and not a whole lot of low post presence. In a 3 point prominent league, you need shooting. The Thunder were dead last in 3 point shooting percentage. And Westbrook still managed to average double digit assists this season. He almost needed to get a triple double in order for his team to win. When he didn’t get the triple double, his team was 14-26, when he did the Thunder had a record of 33-9. So, the triple doubles obviously weren’t a pointless glorified stat. They had a point. He had to put his team on his back a lot more than Harden did. But that also isn’t Hardens fault. The Rockets without Harden would not be a good team, but they wouldn’t be as bad as the Thunder without Westbrook.
Looking at all of these factors that go into winning the MVP this has to be the closest MVP race we have seen in years. If you asked me a month ago my answer would have probably been different than the one I have today. If we look at team success, the numbers, efficiency, and how truly valuable each player is to their team they are neck and neck. But my vote has to go to James Harden. With Harden being more efficient, his team exceeding expectations and playing sensational, his numbers being just as good as Westbrooks numbers-when you take a deeper look at them. It’s very hard to vote against such a historically good season like Westbrook’s. But, I just feel like Harden had just a slightly better all around season than Westbrook. When you account for everything. Though, don’t be surprised if Westbrook wins it. It is very likely that he will win and it wouldn’t bother me much if at all since he had such an amazing season as well. This MVP race is so close and it could go either way, but if I had a vote, it would go to Harden.