This was a four-player race not long ago, but the Cleveland Cavaliers’ struggles have LeBron James falling, and the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard simply isn’t putting up the kinds of gaudy numbers required to keep him in the hunt. Considering the league sent ballots to select media members on Monday, here is your MVP viewer’s guide for the rest of the way.
- 31.9 points (first in the NBA), 10.4 assists (third), 10.6 rebounds (career-high) entering Tuesday’s game.
- The Thunder, who lost Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors in free agency after going 55-27, are currently 43-33 (sixth in the West).
- With the Thunder still within striking distance of the fifth seed and still at risk of sliding to seventh, Westbrook – who has played in every game this season – has every reason to keep pushing. Nonetheless, Thunder coach Billy Donovan told USA TODAY Sports on Monday it remains possible Westbrook will sit out for rest purposes before the end of the regular season.
- The remaining schedule (two home, four road): Milwaukee on Tuesday, at Memphis on Wednesday, at Phoenix on Friday, at Denver on Sunday, at Minnesota on April 11, vs. Denver on April 12.
The fancy stats
- Westbrook is on track to become the first player since Oscar Robertson (1961-62) to average a triple-double for an entire season, and the Thunder are 31-9 when he hits that celebrated mark. As it stands, he’s 11 rebounds and 29 assists shy of securing the triple-double average for an 82-game season.
- As evidenced by the 13-point swing in net rating when Westbrook is on the floor vs. when he’s on the bench – from plus-3.2 to minus-9.8, according to NBA.com/stats – his value to the Thunder is profound. Harden’s on-off differential is 1.9 (plus-6.4 to plus-4.5).
- According to basketballreference.com, Westbrook has the fourth-best “Value over replacement player” figure in league history: 11.52, behind only Michael Jordan (1988-89; 1987-88) and LeBron James (2008-09). Harden’s is 8.45.
- No player in NBA history has run a team quite like Westbrook this season. His usage rate (percentage of team plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) is an all-time high of 41%. By comparison, Westbrook’s mark before Durant left town was 31.3 last season (Harden is fourth this season at 34.1).
- The Thunder, who have the ninth-best defensive rating in the NBA, are better on that end with Westbrook on the floor (104.5 points allowed per 100 possessions when he plays compared with 107 when he doesn’t).
- 29.2 points per game (second in the NBA), 11.2 assists (first), 8.1 rebounds (career-high)
- The Rockets, who were the eighth seed in the West last season, are 52-25 (third place in the Western Conference).
- Harden, who missed his first game of the season because of flu-like symptoms on Sunday, injured his left shooting wrist on March 18 and has seen his efficiency from the field decline ever since. Even with the Rockets unofficially assured of ending with the No. 3 seed, Harden told USA TODAY Sports on Friday he had no plans to rest.
- The remaining schedule (three home, two road): Denver on Wednesday, Detroit on Friday, at Sacramento on Sunday, at the Clippers on April 11 and vs. Minnesota on April 12.
The fancy stats
- For all the focus on Westbrook’s triple-double pace, Harden has been busy making Robertson-related history of his own. “The Big O” is the only player in league history to average at least 29 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds per game for an entire season. He did it twice: the aforementioned 61-62 campaign (when he was third in MVP voting behind Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain) and 1964-65.
- Talk about being the engine of a high-octane offense. With first-year coach Mike D’Antoni convincing Harden to play point guard this season and the Rockets setting an unprecedented standard when it comes to shooting threes, Harden is scoring or assisting on 56.4 points per game this season. That mark is just shy of Tiny Archibald’s NBA record of 56.8 in 1972-73, which was set before the three-point shot even existed.
- When it comes to getting bang for your buck on shot attempts, Harden has a definite edge: His true shooting percentage, which factors in the value of a three-pointer v. two-pointers as well as free throws, is 61.3 (Westbrook’s is 55.3).
- If Harden can tally 49 assists by season’s end (a 9.8 average if he played all five games), then he’d become the first player in NBA history to finish a regular season with 2,000 points (currently has 2,216), 900 assists (he currently has 851) and 600 rebounds (615). And as Rockets general manager Daryl Morey noted on Twitter not too long, that might appease the voters who seem a bit obsessed with round numbers these days