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.

  • Wow! Opinion backed up by fact? What in blazes do you think you are doing, Whitney?!

    • benwhit

      You gotta go straight every once in a while just to mix it up.

      • The Donald Trump

        I go straight for their *p**sies. It’s really, really terrific. Trust me.

        *Edited by MTM Censors!

        • benwhit

          No golf today sir?

  • AngryWard

    Westbrook will most likely win MVP. He doesn’t have a great supporting cast—he’s a one-man show—but you get the feeling that he likes it that way. Anyway, he’s an electric player and you know the league needs as many of those as they can get. Harden’s “wins” argument is a good one, and Houston is clearly the better team. But Kawhi Leonard’s Spurs have more wins than the Rockets and Leonard is at least in the argument for best all-around player in the league. So, Westbrook wins MVP, Rockets stay in playoffs longer, and the Spurs probably win it all.

    • Dude

      whats truly mind boggling is how a team with harden, durant, and westbrook never made it even to the finals. but its okc, they dont deserve it- the team should still be the sonics.

      • AngryWard

        Yep. Same here. I will never feel sorry for OKC. Still can’t believe the Seattle Supersonics are no more.

        • Dude

          David Stern must have made off pretty well in that deal, i dont get how else you can justify moving a team out of a legitimate mid level major sports market to one that can barely support NCAA teams. especially one deeply rooted in uber religious crackers… really an NBA team, really?

    • benwhit

      I think the wins argument is weakened by the fact that the Thunder is minus 10 points per game w Westbrook on the bench and Houston is 4.5 with Harden on the bench.

      • benwhit

        Harden was minus 27 last night. Not helping his case.

      • NIcke Erbocker

        But the Harden numbers are less because Houston has better players picking up his slack. OKC doesn’t.

        • benwhit

          Agree. The fact that Harden’s team has more wins is less important because he has a much better team.

  • Buddy Diaz

    I’m still surprised people think Harden is MVP. I know he has more wins but I think that Westbrook had more to overcome with Durant leaving. Houston was a good team, having a terrible year (last season). The year before last, Houston made the conference finals. My opinion is Westbrook SHOULD win but I could see critics voting Harden because they think Westbrook is a ball hog.

    • benwhit

      Harden has some pretty impressive stats himself. It’s not the blowout I thought it was before looking closer.

  • You Suck

    Sandler is racist with that impression.

    • Dude

      Adam Sandler is a hack, his long career is a testament to the fact the the tastes of the masses is decidedly awful. I once swore to make enough money to have all of his work removed from the cannon permanently. He is so completely not funny.

      • benwhit

        Agree he’s a hack, especially these days. But I think that bit was pretty funny

    • benwhit

      How so?

      • You Suck

        His black basketball player impersonation. And you guys suck for thinking he is funny.

        • benwhit

          You’re right. The injured ankle guy. Didn’t make it that far. My bust.

  • Cheesybruin

    What made Robertson’s triple-doubles unmatched was that an assist was only awarded when the point-getter received the pass in the air. Big difference between Westbrook’s version and The Big O.

    • benwhit

      That’s not right. That would be really hard. The pass just had to more clearly lead directly to a basket. Harder yes.

      But to be fair, the game was played at a much faster pace back then. There were about 30 more possessions in a game in Robertson’s Day. So while assists were s little harder to get, there were way more chances to get them. And points and rebounds were much easier.

  • GrindingAx

    Wow, you have Dude and You Suck commenting on the same day? You should feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz after she woke up…. Westbrook is the clear choice.

    • benwhit

      They’re the same person

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