After notching his 21st triple-double in a 135-128 win over the Kings on Sunday, Houston Rockets guard James Harden was asked how much a team’s record, in addition to a player’s individual stats, should factor into the MVP race.
The context of the question was this: Earlier Sunday, Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook, one of the leading contenders for MVP along with Harden and San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, broke Oscar Robertson’s 55-year-old NBA record by recording his 42nd triple-double. Westbrook’s individual numbers are the most eye-popping in the league, but the Thunder have 46 wins and are locked into the sixth seed in the Western Conference, while Harden’s Rockets have 54 wins and will be the No. 3 seed. Leonard’s Spurs have the second-best record in the NBA at 61-19.
If history is any indication, the MVP will go to either Harden or Leonard. Since Moses Malone won the 1981-82 MVP as a member of the sixth-seeded Houston Rockets, all 34 MVPs have played for a team that won at least 50 games and was one of the top three seeds in its conference. No MVP since 1997 has been on a team that ranked less than fourth in wins in the entire league.
Rockets owner Daryl Morey seemed to make a case for Harden — or Leonard — to win the MVP award over Westbrook in a series of tweets on Saturday. Morey noted that Robertson finished third in MVP voting in 1962, the year he became the first and, until Westbrook accomplished the feat this year, only NBA player to average a triple-double over a full season. Robertson arguably had more impressive numbers than MVP Bill Russell and runner-up Wilt Chamberlain, but his Cincinnati Royals finished 43-37, well behind the pace of Russell’s Celtics and Chamberlain’s Warriors.
AAU...All-Star game...Draft Lottery...2017 MVP race. Basketball is losing its focus on winning— Daryl MorΞy 🗽🏀 (@dmorey) April 8, 2017
Harden’s MVP case is about more than wins, however. In addition to his triple-doubles, he is on pace to break Nate Archibald’s NBA record for points and points off assists per game (56.8 in 1972-73). Harden scored or assisted on 72 points in Sunday’s win, bringing his points produced per game average to 59.