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What an NBA season.  Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Stephen Curry all had tremendous years.  Each left a lasting and unique fingerprint on NBA history, each played the game in their own way, and each played the game extremely well.  Every NBA fan, executive, and writer appreciates statistics and the players who earn them, but there is something to be said for the pioneers.  The players who leave a style–the players who impact the legacy of the game.  Iverson brought his crossover and pace of play.  Rodman brought a reckless abandon,  Shaq brought power, and  Garnett brought passion.  Lebron broke the mold with his stature and speed and Nash made plays every possession.  MJ deserves a book for his impact; as do Magic, Russell, Chamberlain, and Bird.  The game has seen greats, but not every great changed the game.  Kobe Bryant is a great player, a HOF player, but he didn’t do anything we didn’t see Jordan do.  No disrespect to Kobe, but what is the Kobe fade away? The Kobe post up, the Kobe crossover, the Kobe move?  So as we look at this year’s MVP, let’s remember that these guys did it their way.

James Harden has a style of his own.  He is a great athlete who has really assimilated everything that the European game has to offer.  Harden combines all of the moves we see displayed in the streets, parks, and rec-centers all throughout America with all of the moves made popular by guys like Ginobili in Euro-league play.  He posses the ideal size and build of a 2 guard along with the playmaking ability of a 1.  Harden is an exceptional shooter and poses a true threat anywhere from 25 feet in.  Harden excels in getting to the free throw line and leads the league in both free throw attempts and makes.  Much of Hardens success at the free throw line is attributed to the fact that he is both a southpaw and an unorthodox player (European style).  Harden had a truly amazing year; we will get into comparative statistics later.

Russell Westbrook plays like there is a gun to his momma’s head.  If I had to pick one word to describe Russ it would be “emotion.”  Westbrook brings that Rodman, Garnett, MJ type energy to the arena every single night.  If I wanted to explain how to play the game of basketball to my kids–what passion, determination, and energy to bring–I’d show them clips of Russell.  Russell is arguably the greatest athlete to play point guard and his style almost warrants a positional ranking of its own.  He is an explosive athlete, a one man fast break, who seemingly gets to the rim any time he wants.  Russell is the emotional leader of his team and is extremely competitive in every facet of the game.  He is second in the Association in both steals and free throws.  Russell’s only weakness may be his shot selection, but, when a guy plays as hard as he does, he really earns the shots he takes.  I would rather watch Westbrook take thirty shots than watch Carmelo or Kobe–because number “0” is going to work hard on both sides of the court while he takes them.  Of the players in consideration for the MVP, Russ is often forgotten, but he too had a year for the ages.

Stephen Curry was hotter than a pistol and he just kept shootin’.  Steph brings a Reggie Miller mentality to the game; he is an assassin with a sniper rifle.  I don’t remember a point guard who possessed both the shot and the mentality that Curry has.  (Steve Nash had the shot, but he didn’t have a scorers mentality.)  Curry has top-3 handles (Irving, Lawson, Curry {Jamaal Crawford’s in that mix}) and a top-3 stoke (Curry, Klay Thompson, Korver).  Curry is an underrated defender, great athlete, and fantastic playmaker.  Curry has his own style of trademark crossovers and a quick release.  He excels in hitting both contested and open shots from the triple-threat, off the dribble, and in transition.  Steph does well in big games and he uses his three point shot to set up the drive.  He is an excellent player and his style of play will be copied in playgrounds for years to come.

That said, Russell Westbrook is your MVP.   Russell was the least efficient of the group, and his team was the least successful.  Of the three parent teams, the Warriors boast the best record and are the best team.  Golden State isn’t necessarily the most talented of the group, but they had the greatest level of continuity and they all managed to stay healthy this year.  OKC and Houston have  great but injured rosters, and they have both changed their rosters quite a bit between last year’s playoffs and this year’s.  Russell Westbrook’s poor efficiency numbers are a product of trying to carry the team.  Curry was the most efficient and much of that was because he wasn’t forced to take as many shots.  (Curry had his nights but the Warriors didn’t live and die with his scoring like the Thunder did with Russ.) Harden and Westbrook were in similar situations in terms of roster turnover and roster injury, but Russell really shouldered his team’s load more than anyone else in the league did.  He was 4th in assists, 1st in points per game, 1st in rebounds as a point guard by a wide margin, and 2nd in the league in steals.  Russell lead the league in triple doubles with 11, almost three times as many as the second place leader!  Here is my justification by the numbers:   (minutes, Field Goal %, 3 point %, rebounds, assists, turnovers, steals, blocks, points, point differential while player was on court {+/-}, and percentage of game events that the player was responsible for {PIE player impact estimate.})

min    fg%    3p%    ft%    reb    ast    to   stl    blk    pts    +/-    pie

Curry           32.8    48.8   44.2    91.4   4.3    7.7   3.1   2     0.2   23.9  11.5  17.8

Harden         36.9    44      37.5    86.6   4.7   6.9    3.9   1.9  1.9   0.7    3.8    18.4

Westbrook    34.4    42.5   29.7    83.7   7.3   8.6    4.4   2.1  0.2   28     3.4     18.6

You decide for yourself, let me know what you think!      https://nflnbapulse.blogspot.com


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