Beard Over Brodie: Why Harden, not Westbrook, should be MVP

James Harden vs. Russell Westbrook 2016-17 MVP Race

We just witnessed two of the best, historical individual performances ever in a regular season since Oscar Robertson. James Harden and Russell Westbrook have made their way to the record book with impressive seasons and will duel in an explosive first round matchup in the NBA playoffs.

However, one of these players has seemingly pulled ahead in the MVP race. Russell Westbrook is the popular vote to become the 2016-2017 NBA Most Valuable Player. Despite putting on an equally astonishing individual performance this season, James Harden has been discredited in his MVP campaign due to his team’s success.

Below is a compilation of the most common reasons used by national media for Westbrook as MVP … and my reasons why not.

Russell Westbrook is Mr. TRIPLE-DOUBLE! He is averaging one and has the most ever in one season!

Let’s put this out there now. This is an amazing feat. Averaging a triple-double and getting the most triple-doubles in a season is crazy. James Harden was less than two rebounds away from averaging one himself. Check out the comparison between the MVP finalists:

The Brodie: 31.9 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists per game
The Beard: 29.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 11.2 assists per game

The triple-double is Westbrook’s strongest (maybe only) case over James Harden. But if we dig a bit deeper, we’d see Harden’s numbers are actually more impressive. You might not be able to fit the headline in 72 characters or less, but Harden has put up similar numbers on a more efficient level.

Despite the similar stat line average, Westbrook had a higher usage rate than Harden, meaning Brodie had more opportunities to put up his numbers. Westbrook got his extra bucket on five more field goal attempts per game and at a lower field goal percentage than Harden.

James Harden

Russell Westbrook is putting up numbers we haven’t seen since Oscar Robertson!

So is James Harden!

James Harden averaged 29.1 ppg, 11.2 apg, and 8.1 rpg this season. Only Oscar Robertson has averaged at least 28 ppg, 11 apg, and 7 rpg in a single season.

Speaking of which, Harden is the only player since Nate Archibald in 1973 to average at least 29 ppg and 11 apg.

James Harden has the most 30+ points, 10+ assist games in a season since 1983-84.

James Harden is the only player in NBA history with at least 50 points, 15 assists, and 15 rebounds in a single game.

James Harden is the first player in NBA history to have multiple 50-point triple doubles in a season.

James Harden is the only player in NBA history with 2,000+ points, 900+ assists, and 600+ rebounds in a single season.

James Harden is the only player in NBA history to score at least 2,000 points and assist on at least 2,000 points in a season.

It’s like James Harden is a tree of records, and he’s shaking them all loose!

James Harden

James Harden has a better team around him. Westbrook did it on his own.

Really? That’s not what the talking heads were saying before the season started. Here are some predictions from major sports media outlets:

ESPN
HOU: 45-37 (tied 6th seed)
OKC: 46-36 (5th seed)
They were pretty close with one of those teams. The other team exceeded their expectation by a large margin.

CBS Sports
HOU win totals: 42, 43, 45, 47, 45
OKC win totals: 45, 44, 44, 43, 47
Similar numbers. Again, one team blew these projections out of the water. The other team was in the realm of their forecast.

USA Today
HOU: 40-42 (tied 8th seed… with Dallas)
OKC: 44-38 (7th seed)

Sporting News
HOU: (8th Seed)
OKC: (5th Seed)

Bleacher Report
HOU: 38-44
OKC: 43-39
“The Rockets didn’t do quite enough to avoid a lottery finish.”
“The Thunder added plenty of talent by trading for Victor Oladipo and Ersan Ilyasova … This team is no longer a playoff lock, but it enters the season as a good bet to play more than 82 games–even if it’s not many more.”

Actual outcome:
HOU: 55-27, 3rd
OKC: 47-35, 6th

Harden is truly responsible for the success of this team. Along with his historical season, Harden leads the league in touches per game, and he is number one in win shares. That’s quite an impact on the 3rd best team record in the NBA.

Russell Westbrook lost Kevin Durant and finished with a worse record than last year’s team. As expected.

James Harden lost Dwight Howard and finished 3rd overall in the league after going .500 the previous year. With a new coach. As not expected.

Check out this gem:

Nice opening argument there, Skip. “There’s snipers. Everywhere. Russell doesn’t have … ” I would bring up the poor 3-point shooting percentage the Rockets have since the All-Star break, but I don’t want to depress myself. People are acting like Harden is playing on the Dream Team.

James Harden

James Harden is a product of D’Antoni’s system; of course he’s producing those numbers.

D’Antoni coached the 76ers (associate), Lakers, and Knicks before joining the Rockets. He had a rebuilding project in Philadelphia, he had Melo in NY, and he had a star-studded roster in LA. Yet, all of those teams vastly underperformed and underwhelmed despite playing in D’Antoni’s system.

If I told you a washed-up, one-way coach in Mike D’Antoni was going to fix the dysfunctional and disappointing 41-41 Houston Rockets who just lost Dwight Howard, you would have put Morey on the hot seat. And you did. And I did. And the media did.

Many fans and media members questioned the hiring of a coach whose best days were far behind him and locked in a box in Phoenix. D’Antoni was considered outdated in today’s game.

Fast forward to today, and all of a sudden, Mike D’Antoni is the maker of stars.

Where are the historical seasons and top-3 seeded teams of Robert Covington, Carmelo Anthony, and Kobe Bryant under D’Antoni’s system?

It takes a lot more than plugging in a player into a system for it to work. Harden deserves credit for taking D’Antoni’s system to new heights. Some would say he deserves credit an MVP would get. By the way, where was the “Kerr Effect” argument when Steph Curry won the MVP during Steve Kerr’s first year as his head coach in 2014?

James Harden

Conclusion

Somehow, finishing with the 3rd best record in the NBA has become a negative to James Harden’s case for MVP. This is a world where having a better team goes against you. As if “working harder” should be a significant metric in determining this year’s MVP.

Since when has having a top-seeded team been a detriment to a player’s MVP case? Not in the last 30 years. The MVPs in the past 30 YEARS were on a top-3 team. Westbrook’s OKC Thunder will finish 6th in this year’s western conference. Harden’s Rockets will be 3rd overall.

Stephen Curry was back-to-back MVP for 2015 and 2016. His GSW were 1st place both years.

What a time to be alive. Harden and Westbrook have put up historic numbers in entertaining fashion. Historic individual numbers versus historic individual numbers AND team success. How is this even close?

If each MVP case was presented without the national media hoopla and bias, there really is only one player that stands out.

That player is James Harden.

James Harden

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