The 2016-17 NBA season has been worth all of the attention is has been given, and with that, most experts predict for the NBA MVP race to come between Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, and Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden. Both of these superstars have strong cases for why they should be inducted as the MVP this season, but who will it ultimately be? Here are the cases for, as well as against each candidate:
The Case For Russell Westbrook
Not only has Westbrook broken Oscar Robertson’s record for the most triple-doubles in a single season (42), but he is ultimately defying the logic that NBA superstars need to rest to keep healthy. Westbrook is on track to have one of the most impressive seasons, statistically speaking, as he is currently averaging 31.9 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game.
When Westbrook finishes with a triple-double, the Thunder find themselves with a record of 33-9. Offensively, the point guard finds himself tenth when it comes to rebounds per game, as well as #1 in PER.
The biggest factor for Westbrook? Look at his supporting cast! While Harden doesn’t have an amazing cast either, Westbrook has a less experienced coach in Billy Donovan, as well as starting lineup that simply doesn’t compare to what the Rockets have.
The Thunder currently sit sixth in the Western Conference, and without Westbrook, the franchise would likely find themselves towards the bottom of the standings.
The Case Against Westbrook
Is Westbrook a true and definitive leader, or does he simply “stuff” his stats for a personal benefit? As of Monday, Westbrook currently leads the NBA in most shots taken by almost 400. His usage rate? Kobe Bryant set the record for the highest usage rate back in 2006 with 38.7. In the 2016-17 season, Westbrook is on pace to finish with a rate of 42.5. His lack of ability to play for the team, unlike Harden, may be his downfall in this race.
The biggest case for Westbrook is that he will likely finish the NBA season with a triple-double, but if you increase the usage rate for LeBron James and James Harden, they would both be finishing with triple-doubles as well, and would likely surpass Westbrook’s stats.
In each of the last 35 years in the NBA, the MVP award has gone to the player on a team with 50+ wins, as well as an individual that is on a franchise within the top four in their conference. While Westbrook is not under either of those categories, Harden is under both. Team success does play a major factor in the race, even with the title being labeled as the most valuable player.
The Case For James Harden
Harden made a great point when he noted that wins matter when it comes to the MVP race, especially when the Rockets have eight more than the Thunder. On top of all of this, when you compare Harden’s defense to his 2015-16 campaign, he seems like an entirely new player.
Harden has a possession time per game of 9 minutes, whereas Westbrook sits at 8.9. The percentage change for each? Harden with the ball causes a +42.9% difference, whereas Westrbook causes a difference of +9.9%. This shows that even though Westbrook has slightly better stats at the surface, Harden makes the most of every possession, and is ultimately the more valuable asset to have on a franchise.
The Case Against James Harden
Harden is an excellent player, but just about everyone would prefer to have Westbrook when the game is on the line. By the end of March, Harden found himself averaging just 0.5 assists when there are five minutes left in the game and there is a differential of five points or less, whereas Westbrook had 0.7.
The style of play between Westbrook and Harden are so much different, and Westbrook seems to be the one that catches more eyes from the media. With a buzzer-beater victory on Sunday against the Nuggets, most claim Westbrook has clinched the MVP award already. As for Harden, if you look back on some of the film where the game has been on the line, you’ll often see him defer to one of his three-point snipers. This could be seen as Harden being the better team player, but for MVP? Most would argue that Westbrook’s style of play would edge him out.
Who do you have as the 2016-17 NBA MVP? Voice your opinion and let us know!
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