Sunday, 5 March 2017

Harden vs Westbrook: Closest MVP race ever?

It’s about three quarters way into the season and the MVP race is looking as close as ever. Not only are the league’s best performing on a high level, they’re doing it in record-breaking fashion. In fact, at the time of this writing, the players this season have set a league record for most triple doubles in a season with 79. Most of these triple doubles can be attributed to Russell Westbrook and James Harden, the front runners of this year’s race.

Other candidates like Lebron James (25.9ppg, 8.0rpg, 8.9apg), Kawhi Leonard (26.1ppg, 6.0rpg, 3.4asg) and even Isaiah Thomas (29.4ppg, 2.7rpg, 6.2apg) are having great years and posting career numbers. At the age of 32, Lebron is showing no signs of slowing down, as his Cavaliers find themselves at the top of the Eastern Conference for yet another year. Meanwhile, Thomas is currently second in the league in scoring, and leading the Celtics to a stronghold on the conference’s second seed.  Now, if this were any other year, fans would likely not have any problem with the Maurice Podoloff trophy going to one of these guys at the end of the year. However, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Westbrook and Harden are simply playing on another level.

With the departure of KD in the offseason, many people expected Westbrook to post outrageous numbers with more offensive freedom and usage rates. In the first month of the season, fans were delirious when Russ came storming out of the gates with nine triple doubles. But who would’ve thought that he would still be averaging a triple-double 62 games into the season?? His current stat line reads 31.7ppg, 10.7rpg and 10.1 apg…

...leaving Westbrook on pace for one of the greatest single seasons in league history. At point guard, Russell is able to grab rebounds and immediately start the break, leading to a fast pace for OKC (7th in the league). His can’t stop/won’t stop attitude also leads to more second chance points and hustle stats.

Aside from the statistics, the Thunder are currently in playoff position at 7th in the West. With twenty games left in the season, there’s still time for the Thunder to climb into the 6th, 5th or even 4th seed. That’s the thing with the MVP race. The coaches and GM’s typically lean towards the candidate that is also having a winning season, and the fact that Westbrook has been able to single-handedly carry his team to victory lends very well to his case. Along with all of that, Russell leads the league  in PER (player efficiency rating) at 29.9, showing how he has evolved and matured as a player and leader.  

So what stands in the way of Westbrook and his first MVP?  The Beard.

The south-paw scorer from Houston has been doing a lot more than scoring this season, leading the Rockets to 3rd seed in the West. To say the least, a season with this much success was not expected at all, after going 41-41 last season for 8th in the conference. Mike D’Antoni’s high-octane offense is arguably the best situation for James Harden, who’s assist numbers are indicative of the shooters around him. With three-point threats such as Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon (who is having a career year) spreading the floor, it is easier for Harden to operate and find his teammates. The Rockets have the second-best offensive ratings in the league because Golden State, thanks to the countless opportunities created by Harden’s attack of the dribble.

His stats reflect this as well, with a line of 28.8ppg, 8.0rpg, and 11.3 asg. While Harden’s stats are a little lower than Westbrook’s, the extra assists he provides and his shooting efficiency (43.9%) leads to more points for Houston. As well, with more offensive threats on the floor, there’s less of a need for Harden to look to score his own points. Harden has had his fair share of triple doubles, with 15 so far this season, setting new career averages in rebounds and assists. His ability to probe the defense from any part of the court leaves him a force to be reckoned with on a nightly basis.

In the end, both players are incredibly deserving of the award. Who do you think should get the award? Share your pick in the comments below!

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