By Jimmy Rouse
This year’s NBA MVP race is quite interesting, as two NBA stars are both putting up record setting numbers. James Harden of the Houston Rockets and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder are putting up absurd numbers this year. They both have a handful of triple-doubles on the season and have led their respective teams to this year’s playoffs. There are other players in the race, such as Kawhi Leonard, Lebron James, and Steph Curry. However, these players are on teams that have a lot of depth and talent, so the race this year is mainly between Harden and Westbrook.
During the offseason, Kevin Durant decided to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder and join Steph Curry and the thriving Golden State Warriors. This left Westbrook all alone without his partner in crime in Oklahoma City. Although Westbrook had some supporting talent in Oklahoma City, with players like Victor Oladipo and Steven Adams, they are simply role players and certainly cannot play to the level that Kevin Durant did. Westbrook was not satisfied with Durant, but this didn’t hurt his game. Durant’s absence fueled Westbrook to be the best player that he could be as he was now the face of the franchise. For the 2016-17 season, Westbrook is averaging a triple-double with 31.9 points per game, 10.6 rebounds per game, and 10.4 assists per game. This accomplishment has been achieved by one other player: Oscar Robertson. As of April 4th, Russ is just one triple-double away from Robertson’s triple-double record. He has 40 triple-doubles on the season and has 6 games to break it before the postseason. Russ has put up ridiculous stats this season, but this has not been his only accomplishment. Russ has led his team to a playoff spot almost single-handedly. Westbrook leads his team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals, and the margin between his stats and his teammates’ stats is quite large. Without Westbrook, the Thunder would probably struggle tremendously as he is basically their whole offense.
On the other hand, Harden has also been putting up excellent numbers. Although he isn’t averaging a triple-double, he nearly is with 29.2 points per game, 8.1 rebounds per game, and 11.2 assists per game. He has twenty triple-doubles on the season, which is still extremely impressive. The main case for Harden being MVP is that the award goes to the “most valuable player” in the league. The Rockets have a better record than the Thunder and are three spots ahead of them in the standings. However, it isn’t fair to base how valuable a player is by looking at a team’s record. Harden is surrounded by a lot more talent than Westbrook. He has teammates that can rebound, like Clint Capela, teammates who can play the point, like Patrick Beverley, teammates who can shoot threes, like Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, and Eric Gordon, and teammates who can provide a strong performance of the bench, like Lou Williams. So if Harden has an off night, his teammates could make up for his poor performance.
Westbrook appears to be the clear favorite for MVP this season since he has put up better stats then Harden and has had to be more of a leader to fill the void since the departure of Kevin Durant. The only reason that Harden should get the award is that the Rockets have a better record, but this is misleading. The Rockets only have a better record than the Thunder because they have a better coaching staff and better players. If Westbrook were put on the Rockets, the Rockets could have the potential to be at the top of the West, which is why Westbrook should be this year’s MVP.
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