Big Ben Tuesday: NBA MVP Race for the Ages – Harden and Westbrook’s Season Rivals Robertson, Wilt and Russell

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HOUSTON, TX – Based on my peripheral view of the NBA MVP race, it’s hard to fathom how Russell Westbrook could average a triple double and not win it. But it happened to Oscar Roberson back in ’61-62, and a closer look at James Harden’s stats makes it look a lot less cut and dried. Let’s dig in.

Fear the Beard!

The Case for Harden
29.3 points per game (second in the NBA), 11.3 assists (first), 8.1 rebounds (career-high)
Playing in Mike D’Antoni’s quick shot system is probably a negative as any decent point guard’s stats should improve. But Harden deserves credit for agreeing to switch positions and his numbers have not just improved, they’ve ballooned.

Harden has nearly averaged a triple double himself, missing out by only two rebounds. He is chasing some big records in his own right – Harden is scoring or assisting on 56.4 points per game on the season. This is just short of Tiny Archibald’s record of 56.6. Harden has also taken his team from the eighth seed to the third seed in the powerful Western Conference.

So Harden puts up about two and half fewer points and rebounds. But he has one more assist per game, one fewer turnover, has been directly responsible for a higher number of points, and has lead his team to eight more wins (through Sunday). Wins do mean something, as Harden was quick to point out.

“I thought winning was what this is about. I’m not going to get into depths, but I thought winning is the most important thing.”

MVP!

The Case for Westbrook
31.9 points (first in the NBA), 10.4 assists (third), 10.7 rebounds (career-high) 

At Meet The Matts, we love getting into depths. You know about the triple doubles, but you may not know that Westbrook has the fourth best WARP in league history at 11.52. WARP is the wins above replacement player. So, if Westbrook played with four statistically average players, they would win 11 and a half more games than five average players. Harden’s is 8.45.

Need more proof that Westbrook has the weaker supporting cast? How about the 13-point swing in point differential when Westbrook is in the game versus when he’s on the bench. The Thunder are plus about three points with him on the floor and minus almost ten when he’s not. That’s a huge swing. Without Westbrook, the Thunder would be looking up at the Nets. Harden’s differential is only plus about two and his team is still positive with him on the bench, at plus four and half points. The Rockets would still be pretty good without him.

That’s pretty convincing. Losing Kevin Durant could have crushed this team but Westbrook has not only kept them respectable, he’s kept them in the playoffs. Tough luck for Harden but Westbrook is the MVP.

Wilt Goes Grandma

A Look Back
In the 1961-62 season, Oscar Robertson averaged a triple double and did not win the MVP. Wilt Chamberlain averaged over 50 points and 25 rebounds and didn’t win the MVP either. Bill Russell, who didn’t the lead the league in any major statistically category, won the award. The voters seemingly put the highest value on wins, and the Celtics had 60 of them on their way to a championship.

Here are a few other nuggets from that incredible season.

Twelve of the first place votes went to players other than those three.

Wilt only got nine first place votes, compared to Russell’s 51. Did I mention that he averaged 50 points and 25 rebounds?

Wilt had his famous 100 point game. The notoriously poor free throw shooter hit 28 of 32 free throws in that game and finished the season with the best free throw percentage of his career. That was the only year he shot them underhanded. Despite a career best 61%, he refused to do it after that season because he felt silly. Shaq would later say that he would rather shoot zero percent than shoot free throws underhanded.

Final Thoughts
Harden has had a great season and has put up some impressive statistics. But Westbrook has had a season for the ages, it will be a crime if he doesn’t win.

Come back tomorrow for @Angry_Ward, who rarely misses a triple double of doughnuts, cigarettes and whiskey. Follow us on Twitter at @benwhit8 & @MeetTheMatts and like our Facebook page, Meet The Matts.

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About the Author ()

Ben Whitney comes from journalistic stock. Aside from his brothers, rumor has that his great-great grandfather was the youngest brother of Eli Whitney and covered the earliest "rounders" games. Big Ben is also another New York Rugby Club player/pal of Different Matt, Short Matt and Junoir Blaber. He likes film noir discussions, has twin girls and took up ice hockey after retiring from rugby.

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