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Jan 9, 2017
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The recent game between the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder perfectly summed up the Most Valuable Player race between between former teammates Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

The numbers: Westbrook posted another ridiculous stat line of 49 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists, with a career-high 8 three-pointers. Harden, on the other hand, had a more modest 26 points, 12 assists, and 8 rebounds.

But more importantly, the latter came out with the win, 118-116.

While everyone is marveling at Russ and his nightly triple-doubles, it is James—sorry, LeBron—who is currently on top of NBA.com's MVP ladder. We actually couldn't agree more, especially with so many factors to consider.

Before you give us the argument that Westbeast is doing something that hasn't been done since Oscar Robertson in 1961, hear us out first why we think the Bearded One deserves the midseason MVP, and why he might just win it by the end of the season.

(We all know that Harden and Westbrook can both light up the scoreboard and stuff the stat sheet. This piece will focus on the intangibles such as each player's effect to his team and how he thrives in his situation.)


System

This is Steve Nash and 7-Seconds-Or-Less Phoenix Suns all over again. Mike D'Antoni's coaching style already favors point guards, but it has become more potent than ever due to game's pace having gone a whole lot faster.

In his first years as a member of the Rockets, Harden was seen as a ball-stopper who dribbles too much and doesn't give a f*ck on defense. This season as the primary playmaker, The Beard is able to dictate the game's tempo and use it to his advantage. Think Paul Pierce, but more of a guard—lulling defenders to his dangerous change of pace, before scoring (or creating) at will.


Teammates

What a way to go from being the worst teammate to the consummate leader. A healthy Eric Gordon has turned into a Sixth Man of the Year contender. If Gordon isn't killing you with his league-leading made threes (even better than Stephen Curry), there's Ryan Anderson.

Before he got injured, Clint Capela was looking like the perfect pick-and-roll partner for Harden, even better than Dwight Howard. Just like Trevor Ariza, Montrezl Harrell has gone from simply offsetting Harden's defensive deficiencies to being fully engaged on offense. Failed blockbuster signings taught Houston that it's not always about the star power but rather finding the right personnel.

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Record

One thing that sets Harden apart from his ex-backcourt partner is their respective team's success. Currently, Houston (30-9) is closely trailing the San Antonio Spurs (30-7) for the second spot in the Western Conference, while Oklahoma (22-16) has managed to secure the seventh seed. Those records say a lot about how the Rockets and the Thunder are functioning as separate units.

Since 1989, the Most Valuable Player award has been given to a superstar from either the first or second seed. The impact of the remaining games to Harden and Westbrook's respective MVP campaigns boils down to how Houston will continue to rise through the ranks and if Oklahoma can still catch up.


Overall

At the end of day and 82 games, Westbrook can average a triple-double but all those numbers would be for naught if they don't translate to wins. In a league that values rings over individual greatness, superstars are defined by how far they could carry a franchise, and not by how high they end up on an all-time list for whatever statistic.

Judging by how their respective squads are working out, Harden is the one closer to challenging the league's heavyweights, and consequently, a title.

 

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