Russell Westbrook has taken the NBA by storm this season. Averaging a triple double through 26 games and leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 15-11 record in the West. Many have him as a shoe in for the MVP. Westbrook has been the talk of the league since Kevin Durant has left and has been amazing so far this season. Although he has played on another level he is not my MVP candidate up to this point in the season. My MVP candidate goes by the nickname “The Beard”. That’s right folks if I was to vote on an MVP candidate today my vote would go to James Harden. Now before you call me an idiot let’s take a look at both players bodies of work this season.
We will start by looking at both players base stats.
Russell Westbrook’s stats:
James Harden’s stats:
Now on paper you may give the nod to Russell Westbrook. He is averaging more points and rebounds and only trails Harden a little bit in assists. It isn’t until you look deeper into their offensive stats that you see just how much better Harden is. Let’s start by looking at both player’s usage percentage. Usage percentage is a stat that measures the percentage of a team’s plays a certain player used. It factors in a wide variety of offensive stats and is the most accurate way to tell just how much somebody handles the ball. Well let’s just say Westbrook leads the league in this category. He uses 41% of his team’s possessions to James Harden’s 33.1%. Now this doesn’t take away from what Westbrook is doing but when comparing him and Harden it is important to realize just how much more Westbrook has the ball. This proves that to compare these two you can’t look at just their averages on the year but need to dig deeper to see just who is playing at a higher level. Our next stat we will look at is true shooting percentage. True Shooting Percentage is commonly known as the most accurate form of judging just how well someone shoots the ball. It factors in a player’s field goal percentage, free throw percentage and three-point percentage to give us our best at how efficient a player is offensively. Well Harden blows Westbrook out of the water in this category. Harden holds a 60.9% to Westbrook’s 53.2. As we dig deeper, we also find that Harden’s effective field goal percentage is also much higher. (Harden: 52.4% Westbrook: 45.8%) Harden is much more efficient on the offensive end. He uses less possessions than Westbrook and yet is putting up similar numbers. Well if you still don’t believe me let’s look at both player’s offensive ratings. The short version for what this stat is “How many points can a player produce per 100 possessions if they tried”. This is where Harden shows the biggest advantage over Westbrook. Harden holds an amazing 114.7 to Westbrooks 105.6. Although both are impressive, Harden proves that he is a significantly better player offensively.
Defense has always been the one spot of Harden’s game that people made fun of. Since he came into the league Twitter has been full of clips of Harden’s poor defense and I’m not sure he’ll ever shake that title. Westbrook on the other hand is never really talked about defensively. People watch how hard he plays and get that confused with being a great defender. The bottom line is that he really isn’t that great of a defender. He gambles a lot and is often caught out of position. Now there is no question Westbrook is a better defender but let’s just see by how much.
Westbrook Defensive stats:
Defensive rating: 100.9
Steals per game: 1.3
Harden Defensive stats:
Defensive rating: 105.5
Steals per game: 1.5
As you can tell, Westbrook is better than Harden but not by all that much. It is important to take into account that Westbrook plays with a defensive minded center in Steven Adams which also plays a part in helping Westbrook defensively. I am not saying Harden is a better defender than Westbrook but it is a lot closer than people think. All in all, Westbrook wins this category due to his ability to not only defend better but also is a better rebounder on this end of the floor.
The next thing I would like to touch on is who impacts winning more between these two. For some reason, people forget just how bad people considered the Rockets before the season. A lot of people (including myself) weren’t even sure they would find their way into the playoffs. Well that narrative has changed due to the success of this team so far this season. The Rockets are 20-7 and they have James Harden to thank for it. He is the leader of this team and makes everyone around him better. Westbrook’s Thunder hold a record of 15-11 so far this year and, although that is very good as well, it does not compare to what the Rockets are doing. Now, I will concede the Rockets are slightly better than the Thunder but it is not by the margin many think. One of my favorite stats to track a player’s impact on winning is the win share stat. Win shares is a stat that factors in what a player does in all facets of the game and calculates it into a number to find out just how much they impact winning. Well the current player who is leading the league in this category is James Harden. Harden is boasting an impressive 5.4 while Westbrook comes in with a 3.6. Like I said, both are great but Harden is just better.
I love stats but nothing tells you more about something in Sports than watching the game. I’ll start with what I see from Westbrook. Look I love Russell Westbrook. His competitive nature is like nobody else’s in the league. He works hard on both ends and can take over a game at any time. What he has accomplished this season is nothing short of greatness. I’m not sure we have ever seen anyone quite as gifted athletically as we do with Westbrook. It will never get old watching him play and he has put up other worldly stats so far this season. With all of that being said, he is not my MVP for a few reasons. Westbrook is a player who is just not under control all of the time. Sure he is amazing to watch throughout the game but we still see him let his emotions get the best of him. He takes dumb shots late in games and his decision making is just not there yet. Harden is the opposite. Not only have we seen him play great but I have seen him mature from past years. Late in games he doesn’t force things instead he trusts his teammates and lets the game come to him.
I hated writing this because it comes off as I am hating on Russell Westbrook. If the guy wins the MVP you won’t see me throwing a temper tantrum but I felt it was important to bring attention to just how good Harden is. Both these players are amazing and I’d love to have either of them on my team. With that being said, Harden has been the better player this year to this point and deserves the MVP.