The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook and the Houston Rockets’ James Harden have undoubtedly separated themselves from the rest of the NBA this season. Although Harden has been fantasitc, Westbrook deserves to win MVP because his play has been historic.
Westbrook eclipsed the great Oscar Robertson’s 55-year old single-season triple-double record of 41. For context, Michael Jordan only notched 28 triple-doubles in his entire illustrious career. In addition, Westbrook averaged a triple-double for the entire season, posting over 30 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds per night. He played so unbelievably well this season that if he recorded a 30-10-10 night, his averages for points, rebounds and assists would actually decline. Westbrook also took home the league’s scoring title for the second time in his career, edging Harden by about two points per game. While Harden performed exceptionally after transitioning to point guard, dramatically improving his defense and posting over 20 triple-doubles of his own, his numbers simply cannot rival Westbrook’s.
After Kevin Durant’s offseason departure for the Golden State Warriors, analysts pegged the Thunder as a lottery team and claimed they would fail to make the postseason for just the second time in the last seven years. However, OKC has posted a record well above .500 and will be the sixth-seed in the cutthroat Western Conference, thanks primarily to Westbrook carrying the team on his shoulders.
Granted, Oklahoma City will be traveling to open the postseason at Harden’s Houston Rockets, who hold the third spot in the Western Conference. In Westbrook’s defense, Harden possesses many more weapons around him. After losing Durant over the summer, the Thunder fielded a much less talented roster than in recent years, featuring Victor Oladipo, Enes Kanter and Steven Adams as the core pieces around Westbrook. OKC lacks outside shooting and other viable scoring options, making Westbrook’s season that much more remarkable considering opposing teams only had to focus on him each night. Therefore, Westbrook is worth more to his team than Harden because of the disparity in the quality of their respective supporting casts.
Without Westbrook, the Thunder would undoubtedly find themselves in the bowels of the Western Conference standings and likely with top five positioning in the draft lottery. If the Rockets were without Harden, they wouldn’t be nearly as good, but they possess talent beyond him that would likely net them at least a low playoff seed. Regardless of who wins this award, both performed exceptionally all season, and it will be exciting to watch them square off in the first round of the playoffs.