With four games left in the NBA season, Russell Westbrook needs just one more triple-double to set an NBA record for most in one year. Eclipsing Oscar Robertson’s mark of 42, which was set in 1962, would be an incredible accomplishment that shows just how much he’s stepped up for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season.
It’s also an irrelevant statistic and shouldn’t be considered when discussing his MVP credentials.
The triple-double is an arbitrary accomplishment. It’s a statistic that we think has merit but really doesn’t. A player who scores 15 points, grabs 10 rebounds and gets 10 assists is not as impressive as a player who scores 30 points, gets 9 rebounds and 9 assists. A triple-double isn’t indicative of a great performance; it just means a player filled in a bunch of statistical categories.
Westbrook’s triple-doubles are almost less impressive than an average player’s triple-doubles. Why? Because he has the ball in his hand every possession! Usage rate is a statistic that estimates how much of a team’s possessions a player uses the ball. Right now, Westbrook’s usage rate is 41.7 percent. The highest usage rate in NBA history right now belongs to Kobe Bryant at 38.74 percent. This statistic shows that this season Westbrook is the biggest ball hog in NBA HISTORY! So if he’s handling the ball that much, it’s obvious he’s going to get a lot of assists and points. It would be almost impossible for him not to.
James Harden is Westbrook’s biggest competition for the MVP race. If you look solely at traditional statistics, Westbrook has him beat. Westbrook’s averaging 31.8 points, 10.4 assists and 10.7 rebounds per game, while Harden is averaging 29.2, 11.2 and 8.1 in those same categories. So Harden is only beating Westbrook in assists per game (and, somewhat ironically, double-doubles) on the season.
But if you look at advanced statistics, Harden is crushing Westbrook. Harden shoots better from the floor while also getting to, and converting more from, the free throw line. He’s also a much more efficient player. True shooting percentage measures how effective a player is every time he takes a shot by giving more value to threes and also taking into account whether a player gets fouled. Harden has a .613 true shooting percentage, while Westbrook’s is only a .555. And remember usage rate? Well, Harden’s is only 34.2 percent on the season. If he hogged the ball as much as Westbrook, his points and assists would be much greater because he’s a far more efficient player with the ball.
Now, some will argue that since Kevin Durant left the Thunder, Westbrook needed to do all this to get the team to win. And certainly the Thunder would be in trouble if Westbrook wasn’t playing at this level. There’s a statistic that measures how many wins a player contributes to a team in a season called win share. Right now, Westbrook’s win share is 12.8, meaning the Thunder have almost 13 more wins with Westbrook than they would without him. Harden’s win share is 14.4, meaning he’s contributed more wins to the Rockets than Westbrook has to the Thunder.
Russell Westbrook is having an amazing season that will be remembered for many years. But his stats are inflated by the insane amount of time he holds the basketball. James Harden would have equally good, if not better, stats if he hogged the ball as much as Westbrook. And that’s why he should be MVP.
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