A little more than a month into the NBA season, the star power of the league is undeniable. Between the Warriors’ collection of talent with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, and the Cavaliers “Big 3” led by LeBron James, as well as players like Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard and Karl-Anthony Towns continuing to ascend, it seems like wherever you look there are players worthy of attention and accolades. When it comes to the league’s Most Valuable Player award, though, two players have emerged as truly having transcendent seasons thus far — James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook and Harden came up in the league together on the Oklahoma City Thunder, but Harden was traded(surprisingly, at the time) to the Rockets four seasons ago. Harden had been just a bench player up to that point in his career, winning the NBA 6th Man of the Year award while helping the Thunder reach the NBA Finals. Once Harden went to Houston, his full array of talents were allowed to blossom, as he was the focal point of the entire offense. That talent has risen even more this season with the arrival of coach Mike D’Antoni this season, and his up-tempo offense centered around Harden as a point guard. Thru Monday, he is averaging 28.7 PPG, 11.6 APG, 7.6 RPG, and ranks in the top 10 in player efficiency as well. He has recorded 4 triple-doubles, and has led the Rockets to a surprising 14-7 start. When asked who he thought should be the MVP recently in an interview, he simply said “The Beard,” referring to himself.
If it wasn’t for Russell Westbrook, Harden would probably be right. Unfortunately for Harden, Westbrook is having the type of season that no one since Oscar Robertson in the 1960’s has had. He is like the Patrick Kane of the NBA (that one was for my fellow Chicago Blackhawks fans). Thru Monday, Westbrook is averaging 31.0 PPG, 11.3 APG, and 10.9 RPG, better than Harden in 2 of 3 categories, and equal to him (within .3) in assists. Harden has 4 triple-doubles for the season, but Westbrook has 11, including achieving the feat in 6 straight games. The question of whether or not he gets one on a night-to-night basis seems like an afterthought because often times he does it by the end of the 3rd quarter. If he gets triple-doubles in 3 more consecutive games he will tie the record set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1967-68. Like Harden, Westbrook hasn’t just had individual accolades, but has led the Thunder to a good start, 14-8 this season, just a half-game behind Harden’s Rockets thru Monday. The two stars play Friday night in Oklahoma City, where they once shared the court as teammates, and now share it as the 2 most valuable players this season.