There are probably 4 players who you could, with a straight face, include in the discussions of MVP this year, being Westbrook, Harden, Lebron and Leonard. It has really come down to a 2-horse race now though, between Westbrook and Harden. So, let’s look at the two players and their supporting casts.
The only argument I hear against Russell Westbrook, is that he doesn’t deserve the MVP because OKC are only in 6th place, whereas James Harden has led the Rockets to third place.
Now let’s look at this sensibly. The award is for the M.V.P. which stands for the “Most Valuable Player.” The award is not, never has been, nor ever will be for the B.P.O.T.T.I.T.H.P.O.T.L. which stands for the “Best Player On The Team In The Highest Position On The Ladder.”
Could you imagine how big the base of the award would be if it read “Russell Westbrook – B.P.O.T.T.I.T.H.P.O.T.L. Winner for 2016-17”?
It would just be ludicrous, wouldn’t it? Nearly as ludicrous as the argument against Westbrook.
Let’s face it, when KD left with his 28.2ppg, with OKC getting nothing in return but an insincere letter to OKC which was more than likely written by his PR people and with KD holding off his “Decision” until all the free agents had been signed, he all but guaranteed he would have no competition from his old team. Every NBA expert around the league, fans around the league and even quite a few OKC diehard fans, thought OKC was heading towards a rebuilding year.
For 2/3rds of the season, OKC had the second youngest roster in the league, only barely ahead of the 76ers and it was only after the All-Star break when Sam Presti traded for old man Gibson (31yrs old), was OKC propelled to the lofty heights of 3rd youngest team in the league.
The team only has 4 players left from the previous season left who play regular minutes. They gained 8 new faces, which includes 3 rookies, who play significant minutes each game, as well as 3 others who only joined after the All-Star break. There are 2 other players from last year who round out the 14-man roster. First is the veteran, 36yr old Nick Collison, who has only played 18 games this season and of those games only averaged 6 minutes a game. The second is Kyle Singler, who has played only 28 games this season and of those games, only averaged 10mpg and quite frankly, would have been traded this season if any team were foolish enough to pick up his contract; unfortunately, none were.
Yes, quite a shuffle of the roster indeed, especially with having a 2nd year coach in the league steering the helm.
The Houston Rockets on the other hand, is a team custom built around James Harden. Of the 10 players Houston regularly play, 6 were there the previous year. 3 of those 6 are veterans with 3 players on their 2nd or 3rd year and are bench players. The 4 newcomers are all veteran players who can score in bunches. Houston basically plugged Harden’s main weaknesses, defence, with three truly 2-way players in Ariza, Beverley and Nene, then loaded the rest of the roster with shooters.
That, to me is a very solid roster, purpose built around their star.
Both Westbrook and Harden have a very similar playstyle. They have the ball in their hands 75% of the shot clock, they both like driving hard to the bucket and kicking out to the open player. With that in mind, let’s look at the two teams again, this time in more detail.
In the starting line-up for Rockets, you have a 13yr player in Trevor Ariza, an elite wing defender as well as a 35% 3PT shooter. A 5th year player in Patrick Beverly, another elite wing defender who is a 38% 3PT shooter. A new to the roster, but 15yr veteran, Nene, a great interior defender who is also a solid low post scorer, averaging 12ppg. They also added 9th year player Ryan Anderson, a 40% 3PT shooter, at PF to stretch the floor out even further. On the bench, they added 9th year player, Eric Gordon, a 38% 3PT shooter, averaging 17ppg off the bench and 12th year veteran, Lou Williams, a 35% 3PT shooter who is averaging 15.5ppg off the bench to their roster.
The entire Rockets line-up, bar Nene and 3rd year player, Clint Capela, both who are Centres and inside threats, are veteran scorers who are marksmen from range. This line-up suits Harden to a tee. It allows him the room to penetrate for easy buckets at the rim and if the opposition dares to double team him, he kicks it out to one of his 3 marksmen who will about 40% of the time, hit a three. No wonder he is leading the league in apg this year.
Pit those 7 players against the 8 players of Westbrook’s main supporting cast. In the starting 5 you have 4th year player in Victor Oladipo, who is probably the 2nd best player on the team. A great wing defender who is a 37% 3PT Shooter. A 4th year player in Andre Roberson who is an elite defender but only a 25% 3PT shooter, to go with his abysmal 42% FT shooting. Taj Gibson a veteran great defender and a solid inside scorer, but will not take a 3PT shot. A 4th year player in Steven Adams, who is a great interior defender and has this year added a 5-8ft jump hook. From the bench, you have the 4th year player in Kanter, who is a reasonable inside defender, but a great low post scorer. A rookie in Sabonis who is a decent low post defender and shows glimpses of being an inside scorer. He is also a 33% 3PT shooter. A rookie in Abrines who is a reasonable wing defender who is a 37% 3PT shooter. A rookie in Christon, who is a very good wing defender, but shoots an abysmal 17% 3PT shooter to go with his equally abysmal 50% from FT.
In addition to those players, OKC does have 3rd year player, Doug McDermott, who is a reasonable wing defender who is a 36% 3PT shooter and another 3rd year player in Jerami Grant, who is just a great all round defender who is a 37% 3PT shooter. For some reason, though, both players struggle to get decent minutes in the rotation.
As you can see, Harden is surrounded by veteran players, nearly all of whom can shoot from range and spread the floor, allowing him to manoeuvre at will in the lane or kick it out to open shooters if they close down on him.
Westbrook on the other hand, is surrounded by a young team who are mostly inside scorers, which not only closes the lane, preventing Westbrook from moving freely, but it also packs the entire paint, making it even more difficult for him to get a pass off to his players. To top it off, two of those players, the starting SF Roberson and the backup PG/SG Christon, both who play significant minutes, are such poor offensive threats, that there man usually drops away from them to close the passing lane or to double Russ.
Now tell me, who has the better team built around their play styles?
I think any reasonable person would agree, that Harden definitely has the better team built around him, to suit his playstyle. He has veteran players who are used to scoring under pressure. He has the floor stretched out to all him to move where he wants to score and assist. OKC on the other hand has a roster built, which specifically hampers Westbrook’s playstyle. Opposition teams pack the paint, making it hard for him to score and pass the ball and he has young players who are not used to scoring under pressure situations, which have shown with numerous scoring droughts throughout the season.
Now that we have agreed that Russ has a significantly harder time in achieving success for his team, let’s look at what the individual player themselves, contribute to the team. If Harden was removed from the roster, the Rockets could well still make the top 8. If Russ was removed from the roster, the Thunder would likely be one or two wins above the 76ers.
What if we look at the individual player’s achievements?
Harden is 2nd in the league in scoring at 29.2ppg, is 1st in the league in assists at 11.2apg, is 24th in the league in rebounding at 8.1rpg. He is also shooting 34.5% from 3PT range.
Harden holds no other records that I can find, other than having the most turnovers ever in a season.
Westbrook is 1st in the league in scoring at 31.8ppg, is 3rd in the league in assists at 10.4apg and is 10th in the league in rebounding at 10.7rpg. He is shooting 34.7% from 3PT range, 0.2% more than Harden.
NB:// Imagine what Russ’s stats would be if he was playing on the Rockets team with a totally open lane and marksmen all around him?
Scary thought, isn’t it?
So, what other records has Westbrook set?
- Westbrook will secure 2nd scoring title this year.
- Westbrook holds the current season record for assists with 22 assists in a game.
- Westbrook holds the fastest triple double in 62yrs, recording it in 19mins, only 2 mins shy of the fastest which was set in 1955.
- Westbrook is currently equal first for the most triple doubles in a season, matching Oscar Robertson who set the record in 1962. It is very likely Westbrook will break that record this season and be the number 1 ranked player in history with the most triple doubles in a season.
- Westbrook is set to jointly hold the record for averaging a triple double for an entire season. The only other player to have achieved this, is Oscar Robertson in 1962.
NB:// It should be noted that 1962 was a totally different game to today which was the same year Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50.4ppg and 25.7rpg for the season. It was the year Wilt scored 100 points against the Knicks. He also had the most 40 point games in a season with 63. Numbers never to be seen again in the NBA.
- Westbrook is currently tied 4th of all time, with Wilt Chamberlain in recording 78 triple doubles for his career, in only 9 years. He is very likely to pass Wilt this year to be in sole 4th place in history. He is only 29 triples doubles behind 3rd placed Jason Kidd, who achieved his 107 in 13 seasons.
- He is the only player in history to achieve two consecutive All-Star MVP awards by himself.
- He is the only player in history to achieve 40ppg, 12rpg, 11apg in 5 consecutive games.
- He is the only player in history to achieve a triple double, while shooting a perfect 100% from 2PT, 3PT and FT range, set this year.
- He holds the record in history for the most points ever scored with a triple double with 57 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists set this year.
- He is the only player in history to record 5 consecutive 30 point, triple doubles.
- He is only one of two players in NBA history to average 31.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 10.3 assists in a calendar month. The other is Oscar Robertson
- He is only one of two players in NBA history to record at least 30 points, 17 assists, 11 rebounds, and 4 steals in a game. The other is Magic Johnson.
- He is only one of two players in NBA history to record at least 120 points, 40 rebounds, and 30 assists over three consecutive games. The other is Wilt Chamberlain
- He is only one of two players in NBA history average at least 33 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists over a 10-game span. The other is Michael Jordan
- He is only one of two players in NBA history to average at least 23 points, 10 assists, and 7 rebounds in a single season. The other is Oscar Robertson.
- He is only one of three players in NBA history to record at least 40 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in consecutive games. The other two are Michael Jordan and Pete Maravich.
- He is only one of three players in NBA history to record at least 51 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists in a game. The other two are Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor
- He is only one of four players in NBA history to record five triple-doubles in six games. The other three are Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson
Impressive record list, isn’t it?
What’s more is that a lot of those records were set this year. Even the joint awards are with the true royalty of the NBA. Oscar, Wilt, Magic, Jordan, Baylor, Maravich. To be even mentioned in the same sentence as those players, is an an extraordinary achievement in itself and just goes to show the incredible season Westbrook has completed.
I believe whether you look at it from the point of view of, who is the most important to their team, who has brought their team the furthest off their own back, what the player has achieved this season or what records the player has achieved; there should clearly only be one unanimous MVP this year.
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