By: Donnie Menke ~Staff Writer~
The MVP race has been hotly debated all season long. The top two players in the race, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook and Houston Rockets point guard James Harden, both have strong cases with few weaknesses.
Westbrook became the first player to average a triple double for the season since Oscar Robertson more than 50 years ago. Westbrook also broke the single-season record for triple doubles. It is also widely believed that the Thunder would not be in the playoffs without Westbrook.
However, there is one big thing working against Westbrook. The Thunder only finished sixth in the Western conference with a record of 47-35. Harden’s Rockets finished third in the West with a record of 55-27, and in the MVP race, wins matter.
No MVP’s team in league history has ever finished with a record as bad as the Thunder., nor has it ever finished so low in the conference standings. The only other player in league history to average a triple double, Robertson, also did not win MVP that year. Robertson lost to Bill Russell, whose team won 60 games while Robertson’s team won 43.
Not only is history not on Westbrook’s side, Harden is not very far behind Westbrook statistically. Harden only averaged 2.5 points a game less than Westbrook (31.6 to 29.1), while averaging 0.8 more assists (11.2 to 10.4). Although Westbrook averaged 2.6 more rebounds, Harden had one of the better rebounding seasons ever for a guard, averaging 8.1.
As far as blocks and steals go, both players average a combined two blocks and steals a game. While traditional statistics favor Westbrook slightly, the advanced metrics heavily favor Harden. Harden bests Westbrook in net rating, effective field goal percentage and assist ratio. Harden also has a better true shooting percentage and assist to turnover ratio. Westbrook does best Harden in assist percentage, player impact estimate and rebound percentage.
Harden also leads the league in win shares and offensive win shares, while Westbrook ranks fifth and ninth respectively. Even through Westbrook ranks eighth in defensive win shares while Harden is not in the top 20, the difference on the offensive end is enough that Harden still beats out Westbrook.
Although it is a tight race for MVP, Harden deserves the award over Westbrook. Yes, Westbrook averaged a triple double, and he had the highest efficiency rating in the league this season. However, Harden was not far behind in either area and even beat Westbrook in assists. On top of all of this, the metrics favor Harden more than Westbrook.
Even putting the statistics aside, history is not on Westbrook’s side given his team’s success. No MVP in league history has had a season of fewer than 50 wins and a worse seed than fourth in his respective conference.
It is a tight race, and Westbrook is certainly deserving, but so are LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. Not everyone who is deserving can win the award, and Westbrook will be a victim of this. Westbrook had a great season, but Harden had a better one.