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Friday, January 13, 2017

Russell Westbrook Versus James Harden: Should the MVP be Selected Based on Analysis or Narrative?

It has become apparent that, barring injury or some unlikely and unforeseen circumstance, either Russell Westbrook or James Harden will win the 2016-17 NBA regular season MVP award. My default position regarding the NBA regular season MVP award is that the recipient should be the league's best all-around player, unless there is a player who is so dominant in one or two categories that his dominance outweighs all other considerations; Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are prototypical examples of the former type of player, while Shaquille O'Neal is a prototypical example of the latter type of player.

It is obvious that the media members who annually vote for this award do not share my criteria. Bryant and O'Neal only won one regular season MVP each despite being, respectively, the best all-around player and most dominant player in the NBA for several years. James has fared somewhat better in MVP voting than Bryant and O'Neal but James--who inherited best all-around regular season player in the league status from Bryant circa 2009 or 2010--arguably deserved even more than the four MVPs he has received. Three years ago, many voters became tired of voting for James and looked for narratives (excuses) each season to elevate at least one player above him. James has finished second, third and third in the MVP race the past three years, even though he has led his team to six straight NBA Finals and three championships while clearly establishing himself as the best all-around player in the league.

James' Cleveland Cavaliers once again sit comfortably atop the Eastern Conference but there is virtually no chance that James will win the MVP award this season. The media voters prefer to create and then validate a narrative. Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry each won at least one MVP because the media determined that in a particular season or seasons those players represented the league's most compelling narrative.

This season is providing narrative overdrive but two narratives have gathered the most attention; you could call those narratives "Angry Russ" and "Revenge of the Beard."

I have already explained why I would select Russell Westbrook as the 2016-17 NBA MVP. I rank James second this season but not because I have been seduced by a narrative or because I am tired of picking the same player (which is a stupid reason to not vote for a worthy candidate); I acknowledge that James is a better all-around player than Westbrook but that gap has closed, Westbrook is having a historic season and Westbrook plays hard every game while James often enters self-described "chill mode." I would take James in "chill mode" as the MVP in most seasons but not when Westbrook is making triple doubles look effortless.

The "Angry Russ" MVP narrative received a lot of play early in the season. That narrative stipulates that Westbrook is angry at the world because Kevin Durant joined the Golden State Warriors. "Angry Russ" will therefore exact revenge on the entire league.

Westbrook cannot be a media darling for the long haul, though. He is too intense, too competitive and too dismissive of stupid questions asked by media members. Westbrook is singlehandedly carrying the Oklahoma City Thunder--a team so bereft of talent and depth that they literally need for Westbrook to put up 30-10-10 every night just to have a chance to win--but instead of acknowledging that reality, the media nitpick Westbrook's shot selection and decision making.

Thus, a new narrative is gaining popularity: "Revenge of the Beard." We all saw James Harden spend last season not playing defense, getting two coaches fired and running his most talented teammate out of town. No one made up any of that. It all happened--but because the Rockets are enjoying early season success in 2016-17, we have a narrative emerging that Harden was somehow disrespected and is now exacting revenge on the league and anyone who dared to question his greatness.

Narratives are inevitably simple and simple-minded, so expect much to be made of the fact that Harden's Houston Rockets won the head to head regular season series versus Westbrook's Thunder two games to one. Never mind that it took Daryl Morey several years to put together a supporting cast that fits with Harden's quirky skill set, while Westbrook's supporting cast contains some mismatched parts and was definitely not built around his skills (Westbrook should be surrounded by shooters and/or by athletic players who can run the floor with him). Never mind that Westbrook is responding to adversity by elevating his game, which is exactly the opposite of the approach that Harden took last year.

Above all, don't expect anyone to point out that Harden actually had a negative plus/minus number in those three head to head games that many media members will likely weigh heavily when casting their MVP votes. The Rockets were outscored by the Thunder when Harden was in the game; they beat the Thunder based on overall talent and depth, not based on what Harden did (this is reminiscent of the Rockets' fluky run to the 2015 Western Conference Finals, when Harden rode the bench during many of the most critical possessions and moments of key games). Harden averaged 20.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg and 12.3 apg in the three games versus the Thunder this season, while shooting .291 from the field, .217 from three point range and .793 from the free throw line.

What about the way that Harden recently led the Rockets to 19 wins in a 21 game stretch? Did you know that during those games the Rockets performed better with Harden on the bench than with Harden on the court? I have to admit that Morey has put together a better team top to bottom than I thought--at least in terms of regular season play. I expected Harden to put up astronomical individual numbers in Coach Mike D'Antoni's system but I did not expect the Rockets to win as many games as they have thus far. D'Antoni has the Rockets running and gunning from all angles, which is the last thing that an opposing team wants to deal with while playing a fourth game in five nights, but we all know what happens when a good team with at least one day of rest between games and a chance to prepare for "seven seconds or less" faces D'Antoni's squads in the playoffs.

By the way, Westbrook had a positive plus/minus number in those three head to head matchups with Harden. Westbrook averaged 35.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg and 8.0 apg versus Houston, while shooting .418 from the field, .385 from three point range and .882 from the free throw line. When Westbrook and Harden were on the court, Westbrook put up better numbers than Harden and Westbrook's team had the advantage--but those games will cost Westbrook in the MVP race because Houston's second unit is better than Oklahoma City's and the simple/simple-minded narrative is "Harden trusted his teammates and won; Westbrook played 'hero ball' and lost." Splice that narrative together with a video of a couple highlights cherry-picked to "prove" that Westbrook committed some basketball sins and you have what it takes to be an esteemed member of the basketball media.

So how should these players be compared? The same way that any players should be compared--objectively evaluate their skill sets:

Scoring: Harden is a better three point shooter than Westbrook but Westbrook is quicker, more athletic and more dangerous from more areas of the court. Every year in the playoffs, we see the defensive game plan that works against Harden: force him right, deny him wide open three point shots and when he gets into the lane meet him with high hands while sidestepping his flopping/flailing attempts to draw fouls. The game plan against Westbrook is concede the three point shot, pray that he settles for it and pray really hard that he does not make it, because when Westbrook is making that shot he is completely unguardable.

Rebounding: They are both excellent rebounders for their position but Westbrook has the edge in this department. Harden's rebounding numbers this season are a little inflated based on Houston's pace of play (his offensive rebound rate has nearly doubled, because Houston shoots so many long shots and long shots typically result in long rebounds that can be snared by guards). Westbrook attacks the boards like a shark smelling blood and he would be a terrific rebounder in any system and any era.

Passing: Harden averages more assists than Westbrook but Harden plays in a system that breeds assists for the primary ballhandler and he plays alongside better shooters. Westbrook can make any pass that Harden can make. If Westbrook and Harden traded places then Westbrook would easily match or exceed Harden's assist numbers but Harden's assist numbers would drop.

Ballhandling: Westbrook is explosive, while Harden is crafty (and a bit quicker than he looks at first glance). Both players have high turnover rates: Westbrook tries to do too much at times, while Harden is often shockingly careless with the ball.

Defense: Harden's defensive shortcomings are obvious and notorious. Westbrook is not an All-Defensive Team caliber defender but he plays with much more passion and energy at that end of the court than Harden does. You could put Westbrook on the opposing team's best perimeter player for a few key possessions and expect good results; no one would dream of doing likewise with Harden.

Attitude/Leadership: Harden talked his way out of one city, he ran two coaches out of Houston and in four full seasons as the top player in Houston he has exited the playoffs in the first round three times. His supporters will say that he has emerged as a leader this season; I say let's wait and see until Houston faces some adversity, because that is when we will find out if Harden is a leader or a front runner. Westbrook plays hard and he inspires his teammates to play hard as well. Westbrook has been a top level performer for a team that advanced to at least the Western Conference Finals four times in six years (and likely would have made it even more often were it not for injuries that he and Kevin Durant suffered during that time). Poor leaders do not take their teams to the NBA's equivalent of the Final Four on a nearly annual basis.

Some might say that playoff success--whether past, present or projected in the future--has nothing to do with being the regular season MVP but I disagree; if a player has a pattern of putting up gaudy regular season numbers that are rarely if ever validated by postseason performance (individually and/or collectively) then the MVP voters should take that into account. Not every 25-30 ppg season is created equally; Michael Adams was a very good NBA player but his 26.5 ppg in 1990-91 while playing for Paul Westhead is not equivalent in impact to the 24.7 ppg that Stephen Curry is averaging this season.

Overall: Harden is an unorthodox but effective scorer and playmaker. He is bigger than Westbrook and he rebounds like a small forward. He has little to no interest in playing defense. Westbrook is perhaps the most explosive athlete in the NBA and one of the most explosive, powerful athletes to ever play point guard. Westbrook has demonstrated that he can thrive as the first or second option for a playoff bound team, while Harden chafed at being the Thunder's third option but has yet to prove that he is capable of consistently leading a team very far as the first option. If Harden leads the Rockets to 55-60 wins and homecourt advantage in the first round this season then he will have no excuses if he suffers his typical early postseason exit.

Harden is having a career year in a system designed to inflate the statistics of the team's primary ballhandler but Westbrook is having a historic season while surrounded by a supporting cast that is almost helpless when he is not in the game. Even if one would say that Harden and Westbrook are equal as scorers/playmakers--and I would dispute that notion--Westbrook has a clear edge as a rebounder, defender and leader.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:34 AM

9 comments

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9 Comments:

At Friday, January 13, 2017 1:21:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I agree with your overall conclusions and most of your individual points. We do differ a few places:

* I would take Lebron in "chill mode" over either other player, both because "chill" Lebron is still a much better defender than either, but also because Lebron can turn off "chill mode" at will. It reminds me, actually, of late period Kobe (albeit on opposite ends of the court) who would often slack off on defense for the first three quarters before locking in during crunch time. I am a little harder on Kobe for that than I am for Lebron on offense, as Lebron's team has plenty of offense even when he is playing at half-speed but Kobe's Lakers teams were not especially defensively stout, particularly on the perimeter, when he was not engaged.

That said, I would also take '09-'10 Kobe over either Harden or Westbrook regardless.

* I of course disagree with your analysis of Westbrook's defense. I of course agree he is leaps and bounds ahead of Harden, but in my mind it's more of a case of a D+ or C- vs. an F-, while your analysis seems to paint Westbrook as more of a B/B+ish defender.

* I agree that Harden's supporting cast is better for the specific system he plays in, and compliments him better than Westbrook's does, but I think Westbrook's cast has better players in a vacuum. There is no one on Houston anywhere near as good as Adams, and perhaps not as good as Oladipo. That shouldn't much factor into the MVP conversation except in Westbrook's favor (he'd still be better off with Harden's more cohesive teammates), but I think it's a worthwhile distinction.

* I expect both OKC and HOU to fall off somewhat as the season progresses (neither is well-positioned to weather injuries), and if that happens I suspect a third or fourth candidate (not Lebron, sadly) to emerge.

 
At Friday, January 13, 2017 2:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a bit confused why you think +/- means so much in certain situations, but you usually dismiss it almost entirely when it doesn't fit your narrative. If HOU is better with Harden on the bench as you suggest, I'd be interested to hear who you think HOU's best player is or players better than Harden? And why D'antoni plays Harden so many minutes? Harden's +/- is still fantastic, btw. And if you do think Harden is HOU's best player, then explain the +/- commment and how relevant/irrelevant it is.

Harden's off. rebounds have only increased by 0.5 from last year. If Harden's off. rebounds remained the same as last year, he'd be averaging 7.8rpg, which would still be a 1.7rpg increase from last year, so his 2.2rpb increase this year has a lot more to do with just because his team shoots more 3's. Given Harden's def. rebounding increase, I'd expect to see his current rate of off. rebounding increase. RW is rebounding amazingly well, but Harden's rebounding this season would be RW's 2nd best rebounding season before this season. For reference, Harden probably isn't a better rebounder than James, but he averages more rebounds than him.

RW has been riding Durant's coattails for awhile now. Harden hasn't had the luxury of a teammate or cast like RW's in HOU yet, big differences. In 2015, when KD only played 27 games, OKC misses the playoffs, whereas when Howard, who's much worse than KD, only played 41 games, HOU makes the WCF.

RW/Harden are both putting up MVP seasons. RW still has the edge, but barely. But, his historic season still only looks barely better than Harden's season. Factor in shooting efficiency as well, Harden is killing RW in that regard. They both commit way too many TOs.

Harden/D'antoni are 2 guys you criticize a lot. Harden's cast is nowhere near championship contender level, but HOU's chemistry looks phenomenal so far. They both deserve lots of credit. Who's HOU's 2nd best player? Beverley? Gordon? That should tell us something. Nick's probably right when he says Adams/Oladipo are better than any teammate Harden has, though Harden does have a better cast than RW. He's making Harrell/Capela look like extremely valuable big men this season, and they were nobodies before. Harden was still putting up big numbers before this season, too, while shooting efficiently.

James is probably a more complete player than RW/Harden, but there's a lot more to it than that. He also plays in a weaker conference and with a much better cast, too. Currently, HOU has a better record than CLE, though I'd expect CLE to finish with a better record in the end given their easier schedule and better cast. The question we have to ask is about impact. It looks pretty obvious halfway through the season that RW/Harden have had bigger impacts than James has had. Take away each from their respective teams, OKC is terrible, HOU is a lottery team for sure, but CLE's still probably a top 4 team in the East.

 
At Saturday, January 14, 2017 11:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

While it is reasonable to prefer LeBron James in "chill mode" over both players, I would select Westbrook this season for the reasons I provided in my article.

I agree about taking '09-'10 Bryant over Westbrook and Harden. I would take '09-'10 Bryant over '17 James, who is not as dominant and consistent as '09-'10 James (who, of course, may very well turn things up in the '17 playoffs).

We will likely never agree about Westbrook's defense, so I have nothing to add in that regard.

I agree to some extent with the distinction that you made regarding the supporting casts of Westbrook and Harden but I did not make this distinction in my article because, as you suggest, it is not relevant to the MVP discussion this season. What is relevant, as I pointed out, is that Harden has the benefit of being surrounded by a supporting cast that has been constructed over the past four years to mesh with his skill set/attitude, while Westbrook is trying to pick up the pieces after Durant's unexpected departure.

I am not sure if OKC and/or Hou will fall off as the season progresses but that is certainly a plausible expectation for a variety of reasons. However, at this point I have seen enough of Houston to concede that the Rockets will have a better regular season record than I expected (barring significant injuries). I will be very interested to see if the Rockets can parlay that into something other than their fourth first round exit in the five season Harden era. It is worth remembering that I have always stipulated that my regular season preview predictions are based on how far I expect a team to advance in the playoffs, not necessarily the regular season record (although, obviously, those two criteria are often for all practical purposes the same or very similar). I picked OKC and Hou to be seventh and eighth, meaning that I expected both to lose in the first round. If they finish third and sixth, for instance, but both lose in the first round then my predictions were accurate based on the criteria that I established at the time that I made them, though--again--I freely admit that I expected the Rockets to have a worse record than they currently do.

 
At Saturday, January 14, 2017 12:15:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I use +/- as one of many tools to evaluate players. I prefer to use it in conjunction with the eye test, as opposed to just trusting it blindly. The only context in which I "dismiss it almost entirely" is when "stat gurus" churn out a list of +/- numbers and definitively state that such a list in and of itself represents an accurate player ranking system. I do not believe that the player with the best +/- number in the NBA is necessarily the best player in the league.

Regarding this specific article and my use of +/-, I applied it to the three OKC/Hou games because I watched those games and the eye test confirms what the +/- numbers show--namely, that when Westbrook and Harden were on the court Westbrook outperformed Harden and OKC outscored Hou. I understand the two players rarely guarded each other but the point is that the media tends to make much out of these head to head matchups when the time comes to vote for MVP, particularly in a race that, to this point, apparently is considered to be close. I would not necessarily base an 82 game award on a sample size of three games but my point is that if the voters are going to do that then they must acknowledge what really happened in those games and not apply a paint by numbers narrative such as "Houston won the season series 2-1 because Harden trusted his teammates while Westbrook played 'hero ball.'"

If you look at my Team USA FIBA game recaps in the right hand sidebar of the main page, you will note that I made extensive use of +/- but that I explained the numbers in the context of what I actually observed (I observed that Carmelo Anthony's impact was not nearly as meaningful as the media accounts suggested but that is a subject for another thread). So, your oft-repeated contention that I use +/- selectively or that I only use it against Harden is unfounded.

The last time I had checked Harden's off. rebs his numbers had nearly doubled, from .8 to 1.4 (a nearly 80% increase) but I don't want to argue about .1 offensive rebounds per game. Houston is playing small ball at a fast tempo and that creates more rebounding opportunities. Harden has always been a good rebounder for his size/position but his numbers this season are a bit inflated by D'Antoni's system. This one factor did not materially affect my evaluation of Westbrook versus Harden.

I disagree about Westbrook "riding Durant's coattails" but whether or not you are right this is irrelevant in a discussion of who should win the 2016-17 NBA MVP. It is odd, though, that you are so obsessed with Westbrook's performance in a season during which he missed 15 games (OKC went 5-10 in those contests, if I recall correctly) and yet the Thunder still tied for the eighth playoff spot with 45 wins (good enough to make the playoffs in most seasons), only to lose out on a tiebreak. Houston made the WCF with Howard having a significant impact during the playoffs. We will see how far Houston advances in this year's playoffs without Howard.

 
At Saturday, January 14, 2017 12:22:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

One last point: I did not "suggest" that Hou is better with Harden on the bench. I proved, based on the numbers, that--during the 2015 WCF and during the three head to head Westbrook-Harden matchups this season--Harden did not have the impact that the media driven narratives suggest that he did. Those are facts, not suggestions.

You often bring up strawman arguments that I never asserted. I never said that Harden is not Houston's best player. I never said anything about the playing time that D'Antoni gives Harden. I did not address Harden's overall +/-, which by the way is inflated to some extent by playing garbage time minutes in blowouts of weak teams (which is a major reason to not trust +/- numbers for games that one has not actually watched).

This article is about comparing Westbrook's skill set with Harden's and about comparing my criteria for MVP selection with the criteria used by the media voters. It is not a referendum on +/- or who is Houston's best player or what the optimal amount of playing time for Harden would be.

 
At Saturday, January 14, 2017 3:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never put much weight into +/-. Harden currently has a better cast than RW, but I don't think the talent difference is that big, and nobody expected HOU to do this well, even if Harden played like the best player in the league. HOU is just meshing a lot better, and Harden/D'antoni are the 2 primary reasons for that. It's hard to draw any conclusions from +/-. Sometimes, the best player in a particular game might have a bad +/-. Anyway, Harden's 2nd unit or guys 4-8 are better than RW's and some other teams, so it isn't a suprrise some all of these guys might have tremendous +/- at times. If it was HOU's 1-5 vs OKC's 1-5 for 48 minutes, that's pretty much a toss-up, even if we say RW/Harden are equal for argument's sake. Adams/Oladipo are a lot better than Capela/Beverley. Ariza has the edge on Roberson offensively, but Roberson is better defensively. Anderson is clearly better than Sabonis, but maybe not as good as Kanter.

You might be slightly right about Harden's increase in off. rebounds, but given his huge increase in def. rebounds, a lot of this would be expected. Maybe he has a 0.2-0.3 increase he normally wouldn't, but he'd still be right about 8.0rpb. And HOU really doesn't play that fast. Their pace is 98.4, while the league average is 96.2. OKC's at 97.3. For reference, pace in the nba when Oscar averaged a triple double was around 125. Teams averaged over 70rpb, while the league average today is 43.6. There isn't a magical formula to translate pace over the years, we need to realize the big differences here.

David, what is odd, is that you blame Harden for losing in the first round every chance you get, while you basically praise RW for missing the playoffs. Yes, RW missed 15 games, but why should he get a pass for that, when other players are playing full seasons, and Durant still played 27 games? RW/Durant were lucky to have each other, a luxury Harden has never had in HOU. If you can't see the difference, then let's move on. One thing about Durant is that he's never advanced past the 2nd round without at least one other MVP-type/big-time player alongside him, and that's with RW getting hurt in 1st round in 2013. If he didn't have RW for the entire 2013 season, OKC finishes no higher than 5th, probably plays MEM in 1st round and loses, which they did in the 2nd round as it turned out.

I never said you said that Harden isn't HOU's best player. But, your +/- comments about him suggest you don't think he is. If that isn't true, then you need to explain it better. You said HOU performed better with Harden on the bench during that 21-game span. That sure sounds like HOU is better off without Harden and that he isn't HOU's best player to me. The 'facts' you brought up are stats, and as we both know, there's a lot more to it than just stats. RW should have better offensive stats, as his team needs him to do more offensively than HOU needs Harden to do, that doesn't mean RW is necessarily better. He probably is, but there's a lot more to it than just that.

 
At Saturday, January 14, 2017 8:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Plus/minus is meaningful if provided in the context of other data, which is how I used it when I wrote my Team USA FIBA game recaps. I watched every minute of those games, so I knew exactly what the numbers meant and I knew which numbers had been inflated by garbage time performances versus which numbers had been compiled in critical situations.

Morey called Harden a "foundational player." I disagreed when he first said it and I am still not convinced now (based on Harden's attitude and defense, not his obvious abilities to score/pass, which I never have questioned). The point is not that Harden keeps losing in the first round but rather that he performs poorly (at least relative to how he plays in the regular season). This is the best supporting cast that Harden has had since he arrived in Houston but I still am not convinced that the Rockets will advance past the first round--and I suspect that if they do advance it will be against a hobbled opponent and/or Houston will win despite Harden, not because of him. We'll see. If I am wrong about this then I will admit it. If Harden is sitting on the bench down the stretch in game seven while Gordon is leading the charge, then that is a different story.

My point about Houston's 19-2 streak is that the real story is at least as much about D'Antoni's system, Houston's depth and the unexpected benefit of Gordon and Anderson staying healthy. This can be distinguished from what Westbrook is accomplishing with OKC, a team that is borderline elite when he is on the court and is awful when he is not in the game.

Show me a passage that I wrote that can accurately be depicted as "praising (Westbrook) for missing the playoffs" and I will respond to that comment. I don't recall ever writing anything resembling that. I recall praising Westbrook's skill set and predicting that he would be Kobe's heir as the best guard in the NBA. Those comments have proven prophetic. Regarding OKC missing the playoffs, I only recall pointing out the difference between OKC's record when Westbrook played and when he did not play. So, if you can prove that I wrote what you keep claiming I wrote, then we can have a conversation about it. Maybe I wrote it and just forgot but I doubt it.

 
At Monday, January 16, 2017 4:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know what foundational is exactly supposed to mean. But, based on the eye test, Harden's #'s/accolades, and how the vast majority of the league (commentators, coaches, players, etc.) talks about him, Morey was spot on. Unless something strange happens, Harden will be making his 5th consecutive AS game(only 7 players in the league have a chance to do that: James, Wade, Melo, KD, Paul, and Aldridge are the others-and Melo/Wade shouldn't have made each of the previous 4 either). He will also be leading HOU to their 3rd 50-win season in 5 years, and on pace to break HOU's regular season record in wins (and without another teammate even coming close to AS status). Olajuwon was certainly better than Harden, but he only managed 5 50-win seasons for his career. That's saying something. Harden will finish top 10 in MVP for 5 straight seasons (3 in top 5) and probably a 3rd 1st team all-nba if he stays healthy. I'm not sure what you're looking for. You have to have a great cast to be able to go deep into the playoffs today, no matter how good you are, and Harden maybe has had that for 2 seasons out of 5 in HOU. Look at what RW/KD have done without each other, virtually nothing. Obviously, KD plays on an AS team in GS. I would hope he could get the job done now.

Harden's shooting has declined in the playoffs overall, but I don't think his overall play is down that much, and he was brilliant overall during their 2015 run. He's often been a high-variance player, which can actually be a good thing for a fringe contender, which is the best we could say about HOU ever since Harden arrived there, as they're fighting an uphill battle against star-studded teams like SA, GS, and OKC (in the past), and need some great performances from him even if they're paired with some big stinkers. The West's top 7 teams are emerging now and each looks like tough outs. I'm not convinced anyone but GS making it to the 2nd round in the West.

HOU certainly has some more depth than OKC, though I wouldn't say it's not great, but their talent level isn't even close to teams like SA, GS, or CLE; and rotations are shortened in the playoffs, and the only reason I would take HOU's 1-5 over OKC's 1-5 is because they mesh better. I'm not surprised you're giving very little credit to Harden for HOU's great start, and somehow oft-criticized D'antoni is doing a phenomenal job.

It should be obvious by now you talk about RW in a much better light than Harden, even when Harden does better (RW missing 2015 playoffs being the prime example). How come Harden doesn't get any excuses for losing in the 1st round without a good cast (2013 being prime example)? I totally agree with your assessment about RW in 2015, btw. But, when Harden is criticized for doing better and/or RW isn't, that makes no sense to me. Like I said before, RW/KD have each been top 5ish players in the league for awhile now, and each has done very little without at least one other MVP/big-time player playing alongside them.

While HOU doesn't really have another true playmaker outside of Harden, they are more apt to do better when Harden sits than OKC when RW sits. But, I think things even out quite a bit when both are in the game as far as each teams' top 5-6 players. RW will be playing 40mpg in the playoffs at least probably, which should be expected of him. I doubt OKC has a chance vs GS, but I could see them beating any other West team.

 
At Monday, January 16, 2017 9:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Based on the context in which Morey uttered the phrase, I understand "foundational player" to mean "This player can be the best player on a championship team if he has the right supporting cast." Harden's individual numbers and the accolades he has achieved do not alter my opinion that he is not a "foundational player." My reasoning, as I have explained numerous times, is that he does not possess all of the necessary traits to fill that role. This is about more than just points and assists. This is about being a leader, being committed to giving forth effort on defense and being able to be effective in clutch situations against elite teams during the playoffs. From my perspective, Harden falls short in those areas.

I have written many articles with in depth, specific analysis of Harden's play and I am not going to cover all of that ground again. This article analyzes why Harden's 2015 playoff performance is not nearly as good as you suggest.

Your criticisms of Westbrook are bizarre. When OKC won, Durant received the credit. When OKC lost, Westbrook received the blame. They grew up together as young stars and eventually it became a nearly annual tradition to advance at least as far as the WCF. Westbrook and to a lesser extent Durant have displayed a willingness to mesh with another star. Harden wants everything to focus on him. Would Harden be willing to be #2 or 1b like Westbrook was for so many years? Would Harden be willing to blend his talents with GS like Durant has? Morey has built the only kind of team that you can build around a guy like Harden but we already saw in PHX that D'Antoni is a very good coach who can only take a team so far.

 

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