As the NBA season comes to an end, the race for the Most Valuable Player award will soon be concluding, and there will be a new MVP. Like almost every MVP race, it is a close one. Many players are making their case on why they should be the MVP, and, like every year, there can only be one. Who will receive the Maurice Podoloff Trophy? Let’s meet our finalists.
In the race for MVP, Russell Westbrook is in first place, and it is hard to argue with the numbers. For the first time since Oscar Robertson in the 1961-62 NBA season, an NBA player is averaging a triple double. After his old ‘Thunder Buddy,’ Kevin Durant, left for the Golden State Warriors, Westbrook decided to take his game to another level. Not only is he going to finish the season averaging a triple double, he broke multiple records doing so. He broke the single season record for most triple doubles, tallying 42 (the previous record was 41, held by Robinson).
He is currently 3rd on the all-time list for triple doubles with 79 (passes Wilt Chamberlain). He has three 50+ points triple doubles, which is the most in NBA history. He has eight 40+ points triple doubles, which is the most in NBA history. He has the highest scoring triple double in NBA history, with 57 points. He has the very first “Perfect Night” triple double, going the entire game without missing a field goal or free throw. He also has 14 triple doubles that came in three quarters or less.
With so many accomplishments, some may wonder why the MVP Race is a discussion, that Westbrook is the clearly the winner. Some NBA analysts say Westbrook is only looking for stats, not wins. Those who say that do not realize that the Thunder are 13-25 when Westbrook does not record a triple double, and 33-9 when he does. In other words, in order for the Thunder to win, Westbrook needs to have a triple double.
His stats and that statement are the reasons why he should win, but there is also a reason why he shouldn’t; the Thunder are in 6th place and aren’t serious contenders for winning a championship. When deciding a MVP, we have to factor in winning, and that is something that does not help Westbrook’s case.
In second place, we have another point guard, James Harden. Harden made the transition from shooting guard to point guard at the start of the season under new head coach Mike D’Antoni. Many people questioned if the great scorer could make the transition to a point guard. Well, the once struggling Rockets are now third in the Western Conference and have a chance to make it to the Western Conference Finals.
What does Harden’s stats look like? He is averaging career highs in points with 29.2 points per game, assists with 11.2 per game, and rebounds with 8.1 per game. In other words, he’s only two rebounds a game short from averaging a triple double himself. He is second in the league in scoring, behind Westbrook, and first in the league in assists, two spots ahead of Westbrook. Not only has Harden been playing the best basketball of his career, he has propelled a team that was struggling to make the playoffs last season to a title contender. No previous MVP winner was below fourth in winning percentage. The Rockets are third.
Just like Westbrook’s historic season, Harden is having one for himself. He is the only player in history to score 2,000 points and to assist on 2,000 points for teammates. He joins Adrien Dantley on being the most efficient player, averaging 29 points on fewer than 19 shots per game. He is also scoring or assisting on 56.4 points per game, the highest combined single season average of points created since Nate Archibald in 1972-73.
James Harden’s play has made the Rockets offense to one of the top ten offenses of all time, scoring 115.6 per 100 possessions. All of those stats point to him being the MVP, but when deciding a MVP, we have to factor in history, and averaging a triple double and reaching 42 triple doubles is something no one thought would happen ever again.
So who do I think is going to win MVP? I think it is either going to go two ways: we are either going to see the very first Co-MVP’s and they both win the award (something legends like Kobe Bryant have suggested as a good solution for this season), or Russell Westbrook is going to win it. Even though Westbrook’s team is 6th in the conference, he is doing something no one thought could be achieved.
After losing superstar Kevin Durant in the offseason, many people wrote them out of the playoffs before the season began. What Harden is doing is great, but Westbrook what is doing is a teensy bit better. Either way the voting goes, we are witnessing history from both players.
The Rockets will host the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs. The two MVP candidates will go head to head, and it will make the MVP race even more exciting.