Hey, would you look at that, it’s unpopular opinion hour. At this point even the most casual sports fan knows about Russell Westbrook’s absolutely legendary season. The statistic achievements are unprecedented and this was more than enough to propel an otherwise unexciting Oklahoma City Thunder squad to the 6 seed and a playoff berth. His name really needs no more introduction. And coming off a season our great grandkids will gawk at, Russ seems like almost a lock for his first MVP award.
And in all total honesty, I’m with anyone who believes that. His dominance this season was unmatched by even legends like LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant and to not award him MVP is near highway robbery. But here I am today, my mission to you is to disprove any effort, any argument to vote Russ as MVP because as you will learn, his stellar season has been outmatched by his fellow MVP finalists.
In order to start debunking his MVP hopes, let’s figure out who would win instead Westbrook. And after the finalists were announced forever ago, that makes our job a little easier.
Since Westbrook can’t win in our little make believe world, it comes down to James Harden and Kawhi Leonard. In any other season besides maybe Jordan’s, Wilt’s or Shaq’s, Russ would be unanimous. But it’s Harden this season that has put together a case that is enough to overcome Westbrooks wild records.
In this article, I will only present Harden’s case as I don’t think it’s much question that Kawhi won’t walk away with the award this year. The only thing he has going is wins and defense. But in this season, he doesn’t stand much of a chance. Maybe one day but that’s an article for another day.
So let’s start off by comparing statistics of our 2 candidates
|Per Game Stats||Harden||Westbrook|
When placed side by side, it’s clear that Harden has put together a legendary season himself. With numbers that would be spectacular in any era, there’s a good reason many are choosing him over Russ’s triple double average. It’s also worth noting that Harden took nearly 400 less shots over the season than Westbrook and was still only 2.5 points off from matching his gaudy total. Harden also is the assist champion this year, something that will always look pretty on a resume.
When really looking at it, Russell Westbrook would win MVP simply because of his mind numbing stats. Averaging a triple double, a record 42 of them on season, 30.6 PER, a point average good for a spot on the top 30 All-Time scoring seasons, the list just goes on and on. But in almost every category, Harden is nipping at his heels with his own smashing totals. He even beats out Russ in assists by a solid margin.
And per 100 possessions, Harden easily averages a triple double himself. Westbrook was used more than anybody else in NBA history by a massive amount. It’s arguable that if Harden is used as often as Westbrook, he would average a triple double with ease.
Here, I’ll even crunch some numbers for you. Westbrook has a 41.65 usage percent, good for the number 1 spot all time. Harden has only a back breaking 34.23. This means that Russ is used 18% more of the time than Harden. Now let’s take the stats into account. By using Harden 18% more, we can agree his stats should increase by roughly 18% as well. After running the numbers, his totals would then be an absurd 34.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, 13.2 assists, .6 blocks and 1.8 steals, good for basically the greatest season of all time. Only .4 more rebounds and he accomplishes everything and more than Russ did this season.
On the other side of things, if we bring Westbrook down to Harden’s usage rate and his statistics decrease by 18%. Now he averages a much more human 25.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 8.5 assists, .4 blocks and 1.3 steals. Now compare Westbrook stats being limited as much as Harden was. Harden had by far a better season at every single category. Averaging a triple double is nothing short of spectacular but you almost can’t even be impressed considering the amount he was used. Harden has had a better season either way when they are both placed on the same level of usage.
But we all know stats aren’t everything. Steve Nash won multiple MVPs with 15 points and 11 assists. And this is where Harden starts to put himself a shelf above Westbrook even despite the stats.
James Harden led his team to 8 more wins than the Thunder (not to mention a 3-1 record against Russ and OKC for the Rockets) in the regular season and eliminated them with a convincing 5 game series in the playoffs. Team success matters mightily in the MVP voters criteria.
Last season Steph Curry won unanimously simply because he was the best player on the best team in the league. Steve Nash won it in 2006 over Kobe Bryant because his Suns had significantly more wins than the Lakers. Did they deserve it over other, better players? No, not at all because those years had players who had much better seasons. But history shows that wins matter in MVP award voting more than individual success.
8 wins and a playoff elimination against Russ could be enough to push him over the edge, especially when considering that Westbrook couldn’t pull away all that much in any category. But that’s not all folks, Harden’s resume gets better and better with every historical mark he has set.
He is the only player in NBA history to have recorded 2,000 assists and 2,000 points in a season, he’s the only player to average 25 points and 25 points of assists and he leads the league in win shares. I won’t even mention the multiple 50 point triple doubles he dropped this year.
It’s these records that just sweeten an already inconceivable season. In the end, Westbrook only has his stats that put him over Harden. And when you level out Russ’s absurd usage, even he doesn’t have that going for him. In the end, Russ is the obvious choice simply because his mind blowing averages. However after crunching the numbers and taking into consideration team success, Harden is the clear choice over Westbrook.