James Harden might end up going down as one of the most lopsided basketball players in NBA history.
His offensive game is out of this world, but his defensive game isn’t even good enough for a junior varsity high school player at times. Therefore, when it’s arbitrarily considered by the NBA media to be a neck-and-neck two-man race for NBA MVP between Harden and Russell Westbrook, the puzzling “debate” can’t help but come off as a head-scratcher.
Westbrook broke Oscar Robertson’s seemingly unbeatable record of most triple-doubles in a single season by accruing his 42nd triple-double of the year on Sunday. That happened just a few days after Westbrook also became the first player to average a triple-double for an entire season since Robertson did so 55 years ago. That being said, why is the supposed MVP debate even a debate in the first place?
Following Kevin Durant’s departure from Oklahoma City, there were questions regarding whether or not Westbrook could lead a team. And, thanks to one of the greatest single seasons in NBA history by one player, Russ has proved to be perfectly capable of doing so. He practically single-handedly led the Thunder to a worthy sixth-place finish in the hotly contested Western Conference.
Meanwhile, Harden, who departed the Thunder several years ago, has been “the guy” in Houston for quite some time now. While his flashy scoring ability has solidified him as one of the NBA’s top players, he’s yet to prove that he’s capable of being a true leader or a consistent playmaker on both ends of the floor. Sure, Harden has done a great job of helping the Houston Rockets compile a great regular season, but scoring is his only elite attribute while Westbrook can do it all.
If anything, Harden is the perfect embodiment of a millennial basketball player. Off the court, he’s either fooling around with a Kardashian sister or starring in some self-aggrandizing Adidas ad. On the court, he puts no effort into defense because there’s no superstar power that comes with playing lockdown defense anymore. On offense, however, Harden is like a video game caricature, dribbling between his legs and attempting dazzling crossovers and layup attempts ad nauseam. He also sports a bushy hipster beard and a jock mohawk, perfectly fitting of a millennial.
Russ, on the other hand, may dress like an artsy-fartsy weirdo from time to time. But other than that, he’s a throwback. From the way that he engages fans and the media to the way that he leads his team. All business on the court and avoiding distracting headlines off of the court, Westbrook has garnered the trust and affection of his teammates in recent years and chose to stick with the Thunder because of that while Durant took the easy way out.
Westbrook is set to win the scoring title, finish third in assists and be the only guard to average double digits in rebounding. Certain to earn unanimous selections to the All-NBA First Team and one of the All-Defensive teams, Westbrook has done it all for the Thunder from start to finish this season. There’s nobody in the NBA that works as hard as Westbrook does game in and game out.
To their credit, neither Harden nor Westbrook have missed a game this season, choosing not to embrace the habitual resting phase that other NBA superstars seem to be taking part in. And, to be fair to Harden, the Rockets have been better than the Thunder all season long. But Westbrook has simply done too much to not receive MVP recognition. With the exception of shot blocking, he is one of the best in the league in every single facet of the game. Yes, even rebounding. Because for a 6’3” point guard to average just under 11 rebounds per game, that’s incredible.
As for Harden, he is the centerpiece of the Houston Rockets, but he isn’t the heart and soul of the team. Westbrook, on the other hand, is definitely the heart and soul of the Thunder. There isn’t a single player in the NBA who does as much for his team on a regular basis than Westbrook. No, not even LeBron James carries the Cleveland Cavaliers on his back like Westbrook carries the Thunder.
Quite simply, Westbrook deserves to win MVP over Harden because the season that he’s had is unparalleled. When a player playing in the 21st century is able to accomplish something that a player accomplished in the NBA 55 years ago, when the competition was far weaker, that’s beyond remarkable. If Westbrook can’t win MVP after averaging a triple-double for an entire season, then what does one have to do to win MVP?
There have been talks of a possible co-MVP between Harden and Westbrook, but that would be ridiculous. Westbrook’s season has arguably been one of the best seasons ever by an NBA player, while Harden’s season has been nothing more than just another year with a hot shot shooting guard scoring a bunch. There’s no doubt that Westbrook has been the NBA’s most valuable player all season long and, thus, is worthy of being named as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. And if he doesn’t receive that honor, then the powers that be in the NBA world have their priorities incredibly messed up. Because it really shouldn’t even be up for debate. Russell Westbrook is the 2016-2017 NBA MVP, and James Harden is a distant runner-up. Case closed.