What if I had told you, back on June 21, 2012, that two players from that Oklahoma City Thunder team would be going against each other for MVP honors, during the same season?
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Every single media outlet out there, has covered, rather extensively, how bad a decision was for the Oklahoma City Thunder to get rid of James Harden after falling to the overwhelmingly-talented, back-to-back Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals.
Three years after that trade, James Harden leads the Houston Rockets mostly without former All-Star Dwight Howard on the court, and hopefully into a much-needed playoff run that would eventually bring back a title to Houston.
And after missing 14 games with a broken hand, Oklahoma City’s “second banana” Russell Westbrook has emerged as an unlikely MVP candidate by taking over the Thunder spotlight and leading them into an improbable 32-25 record for the eighth spot in the West. Not an easy feat when you’ve got the reigning MVP, and arguably the most proficient scorer ever, playing by your side.
Now, in order to try and figure who exactly should be leading the aforementioned category, here’s each player’s case for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player:
James Harden’s MVP case:
When statistical mastermind Daryl Morey traded for James Harden and Dwight Howard, he was hoping both stars playing together for extended periods of time would eventually lift the Houston Rockets and turn them into contenders within the West.
However, he never imagined Dwight Howard would miss as much time as he has. Howard missed 11 games during the 2013-14 season, which could be, by some big man’s standards, the norm. Nevertheless, he has missed 24 games this season. Twenty-four out of 56.
Even with Howard missing 42.8-percent of the season, James Harden has singlehandedly turned the injury-riddled Houston Rockets into the 39-18 Western Conference juggernaut they’ve now become.
Russell Westbrook’s MVP case:
The decimated Oklahoma City Thunder are currently riding an improbable seven-game winning-streak that has deemed them worthy of the coveted eighth-seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
With “first banana” Kevin Durant missing 30 games this season, and due to miss a couple more as a result of a recent foot injury, it has been Russell Westbrook’s fire which has lifted the once 3-12 Oklahoma City Thunder all the way to “the top.”*
Here’s a couple of facts on Russ’ 2014-15 season:
- He has the 33rd highest PER in NBA history among players (any positions) averaging 30+ minutes per game, 29.1.
- Of course, that’s not at all impressive, nevertheless, he’s the only “second banana” in the top 40.
He even recorded a triple-double against the Indiana Pacers in only 28 minutes.
Offensively, Russell Westbrook is in a class of his own:
Up to this point — and this is by no means a shot at Russell Westbrook — it is James Harden’s performance which has impressed us the most. Not only because of the way he has lifted the Rockets but because we’ve always seen Harden as a borderline superstar, it’s been only during the ongoing season that he’s become one.
With the MVP race likely going to the wire, the previous will be arguably one of the most impressive head-to-head battles we’ve seen in a while. And with it, an unbelievable conclusion to one of the most exciting seasons of the past decade.
*The top: Within the Western Conference, seeding might be irrelevant once the playoffs come along.
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