Basketball

James Harden or Russell Westbrook: Who should be named the NBA MVP?

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, left, and Houston Rockets guard James Harden are the favorites to win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player honor this season.
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, left, and Houston Rockets guard James Harden are the favorites to win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player honor this season. The Associated Press

This season’s NBA Most Valuable Player race is basically a two-man show.

While there are other players who played at an MVP level (most notably San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James), the race is really between a couple of point guards: Houston’s James Harden and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.

First-year Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni moved Harden to the one in his high-scoring offense. The result: career highs in scoring, rebounding and assists (an NBA-leading 11.2 a game).

With the Thunder, Westbrook got his chance to showcase his talent after fellow All-Star Kevin Durant left for Golden State. All Westbrook did was become just the second NBA player ever to average a triple-double and broke Oscar Robertson’s 55-year-old record for most triple-doubles in a season. Oh, he led the league in scoring, too.

The two candidates met Sunday in a first-round playoff matchup, where Harden had the clear edge on the stat sheet and scoreboard in the Rockets’ 118-87 victory.

However, the MVP is based on the regular season. Here’s a quick look at their numbers:

Harden

Westbrook

29.1 (2nd)

Points

31.6 (1st)

8.1 (22nd, 2nd guards)

Rebounds

10.7 (10th, 1st guards)

11.2 (1st)

Assists

10.4 (3rd)

55-27 (3rd West)

Record

47-35 (6th West)

YOUR TAKE

Who do you think should win the MVP award? Vote here.

THEIR TAKE

The Kings weighed in on the subject after playing the Rockets on April 9. Here’s how some other NBA voices see it:

Jason Jones, The Bee: Russell Westbrook

“Why Westbrook over Harden? It wasn’t an easy decision. The simple way to look at it would be to say Harden won more games than Westbrook and the Thunder and exceeded expectations. But I expected the Rockets would be good this season and despite the team underachieving in the 2015-16 season due to internal issues. And the ‘more wins’ argument makes it seem as if Westbrook put up his numbers late in games on a terrible 20-win lottery team. Oklahoma City won 47 games after losing a superstar in Kevin Durant.”

Kevin Ding, Bleacher Report: James Harden

“Team success is a reflection of how impactful an individual’s season has been. It’s inarguable how much better the Rockets have been than the Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder ... and that Harden’s team is plus-355 points with him on the court this season to Westbrook’s plus-187. Harden also leads the NBA in win shares; Westbrook is 12th.”

Marc Stein, ESPN: Westbrook

“The guy who kept his small-market franchise afloat with the first triple-double average for a whole season in a whopping 55 years – who soaked up so much of the oxygen in this extraordinary regular season with his historic exploits along the way – strikes us as the ideal pioneer.”

Joe Giglio, The Star-Ledger (New Jersey): Harden

“No one – including Westbrook – did more with less. The Rockets had, by some metrics, one of the best and most efficient offenses in NBA history. Harden was at the center of that, scoring or assisting on almost every basket when he was on the floor. Houston wasn’t supposed to be good this season, let alone rise to a top-three seed in the West. Harden became a bigger, stronger version of what Steve Nash was in Mike D’Antoni’s system, led the league in assists per game, improved his defense and had more win shares than anyone in the NBA. He’s the MVP.”

David Aldridge, TNT: Westbrook

“Westbrook is leading the league in scoring. Harden’s team has won more games than Westbrook’s, and has overachieved at a higher level than anyone thought possible while rewriting the record books for 3-point attempts. ... You have to pick someone, and exhale, and wait for the inevitable blowback. It’s the job. You can’t wuss out and split the vote two ways. Pick someone and live with your choice. Okay. I pick Westbrook.”

Riley McAtee, The Ringer: Harden

“My MVP pick is about what I value on the basketball court. So before I even throw out of a name, let me lay out what I believe: Great offense is more valuable than great defense. Rebounds aren’t very valuable, and uncontested rebounds are virtually worthless. Scoring is very valuable, and efficient scoring is even more valuable. Creating assists is very valuable. Triple-doubles are not, on their own, valuable. … You can probably see where I’m going with this. James Harden is my MVP, April slump and all.”

Kurt Helin, NBC Sports: Westbrook

“This year’s MVP race was the toughest decision in decades. I studied stats, went back and watched a lot of games and film (on this and other awards), talked to other voters and people around the league I respected, and I sweat out this vote. I literally lost sleep looking at this race and trying to decide on an MVP. In the end, I voted for Russell Westbrook, with James Harden second and Kawhi Leonard third.”

Magic Johnson, L.A. Lakers president: Both

“It’s going to be disappointment for everybody because I think both of them deserve to win.”

Oscar Robertson, Hall of Famer: Westbrook

“What he has done has been historic in nature. He’s played with passion and pride and ability. It’s is just outstanding what he has done and the way he did it.”

Tim Bontemps, Washington Post: Kawhi Leonard

“This isn’t a home for the “wins are the only thing that matter” argument. But it’s hard to objectively look at this Spurs team and say that it’s demonstrably better than the rosters Harden and Westbrook have around them. Leonard has led his roster to seven more wins than Rockets and 15 more than that Thunder. And in a debate over what’s valuable, it’s hard to find a more valuable number than that.”

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