Comparing 2015-2016 Steph Curry to 2016-2017 James Harden and Russell Westbrook

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Comparing 2015-2016 Steph Curry to 2016-2017 James Harden and Russell Westbrook 1

Despite what cranky old guy and confirmed churro-eater, Charles Barkley has to say - this era of the NBA has been absolutely terrific. Every year it seems as if players are getting better, and that is especially exemplified by the MVP season of Stephen Curry last year, as well as the two campaigns this year from guards and ex-teammates, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. These three have all had undeniably terrific performances, and so in the basketball writing world, that of course means we need to compare them, and so I have decided to do so myself and decide who had or is having the most MVP worthy year out of three of them.

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Now because I can’t just establish straight off the bat who has had the better season, as that would not be much of an article, I will be comparing the three guards on many different categories, as many different reasons should go down when you pick an MVP, specifically:

- Storyline

- Per Game Numbers

- Efficiency

- Defense (I’m Canadian, this is how you spell defense, prepare to be slightly annoyed)

- Team Value

- Team Success

Since these factors should not be weighed similarly, I will not be accumulating points for each, it’s just there for everyone to get a feel of what we’re working with. And remember, non-Warriors fans, the MVP is voted on before the NBA playoffs, so sadly I cannot make fun of Stephen Curry for blowing a 3-1 lead.

Category #1: Storyline

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Despite the other five categories of the list which will rely heavily on numbers, this is simply just for everyone to get a feel of what type of setting these guys are working, or have worked with for the pure purpose of fandom.

Stephen Curry: Fresh off a season in which his Golden State Warriors beat LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers four games to two, the Warriors seemed like a lock to win it again with a 73-9, and somehow very improved Stephen Curry. The quest for 73 was heavily documented throughout the season, and at times the team and Steph even looked invincible.

James Harden: New coach. Check. New look team. Check. New position. Check. Everything except the hairs on his face seemed to change for James Harden, and he is somehow making the most of it by getting some terrific numbers and making the Houston Rockets look as good as they ever have in the James Harden era.

Russell Westbrook: When Kevin Durant broke Russell Westbrook’s heart this free agency by moving to the Bay, Russell Westbrook dealt with it how anyone else should, by throwing shade on social media, and backing up that talk on the court by playing some terrific basketball. Westbrook is proving that he doesn’t need to be in a basketball power couple anymore, he can do everything himself.

Category #2: Per Game Numbers

Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Evidence:

2015-2016 Stephen Curry: 30.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 6.7 APG, 2.1 SPG, .2 BPG

2016-2017 James Harden: 28.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 11.8 APG, 1.4 SPG, .4 BPG

2016-2017 Russell Westbrook: 31.4 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 10.3 APG, 1.4 SPG, .3 BPG

This category is pretty simple, as for the casual fan out there who doesn’t understand win shares or box plus minus or even effective field goal percentage, this is a big part of who they decide is the superior player. And from the looks of it, one player per game statistics are impressive simply because of the pointless meaning that comes with averaging a triple-double, and the fact that this guy would be the first to do so since Oscar Robertson in 1961-1962 or if you enjoy rounding, Magic Johnson in 1981-1982, and so Russell Westbrook needs to win this category. However, due to the stat-stuffer infatuation of Russell Westbrook, people sometimes seem to forget the gargantuan numbers being averaged by James Harden as well. Steph Curry did have quite the per game sheet himself, but it’s just not comparable to the statistical quantities of Harden and Westbrook.

Verdict: #1 Russell Westbrook, #2 James Harden, #3 Stephen Curry

Category #3: Efficiency

Getty Images

Getty Images

Evidence:

2015-2016 Stephen Curry: 66.9% TS%, 3.3 TOPG

2016-2017 James Harden: 61% TS%, 5.8 TOPG

2016-2017 Russell Westbrook: 54.6% TS%, 5.3 TOPG

Despite the eye rolls I’ll probably be getting from those of you who are just tired of hearing this word when reading or talking about basketball, but it is still very important nonetheless, as it pretty much means who made the best use of their time with the ball, and the clear winner for this one is Stephen Curry, as he not only has the best true shooting percentage of the three, but also one of the best of all time, as he is number 11 on the all-time list, and is first all-time among guards.

And even though Stephen Curry wins this category hands down, the bigger gap is between second and third place, as despite his dominance as a player, Russell Westbrook has proved himself to be pretty inefficient, as he not only matches Harden’s insane amount of turnovers but also simply isn’t a good percentage shooter from anywhere on the floor, while James Harden at least takes smarter shots with an above average 60.9% true shooting percentage and 52.6% two-point percentage to Westbrook’s 45.7%.

Verdict: #1 Stephen Curry, #2 James Harden, #3 Russell Westbrook

Category #4: Defense

Jan 29, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) blocks a shot attempt by Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) ;f1q; at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-232696 ORIG FILE ID:  20160129_pjc_ax3_042.JPG

Jan 29, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) blocks a shot attempt by Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) ;f1q; at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Evidence:

2015-2016 Stephen Curry: .1 DBPM, .052 DWS/G, 40.1% DFG%

2016-2017 James Harden: 1.3 DBPM, .044 DWS/G, 46.8% DFG%

2016-2017 Russell Westbrook: 4.2 DBPM, .053 DWS/G, 46.5% DFG%

The more unnoticed but equally important side of the court should always be a big part in choosing an MVP, and so that’s why I’m, breaking down the defensive games of these three offensive studs. Russell Westbrook has built the reputation as one of the best two-way point guards in the league, and that has not changed this year with a career-high defensive box plus minus, and so he needs to be number one. James Harden definitely stepped up his defensive game from the previous year, as well, but ultimately, I still need to give the number two spot to Stephen Curry, as he is the better container, with a 40.1% defensive field goal percentage.

Verdict: #1 Russell Westbrook, #2 Stephen Curry, #3 James Harden

Category #5: Team Value

May 24, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) celebrates with  guard Andre Roberson (21) during the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors in game four of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Evidence:

2015-2016 Stephen Curry: 32.6% USG%, .227 WS/G, 12.5 BPM, 45.9 Created PPG

2016-2017 James Harden: 33.8% USG%, .203 WS/G, 10.1 BPM, 56.9 Created PPG

2016-2017 Russell Westbrook: 42.4 USG%, .158 WS/G, 14.5 BPM, 55.2 Created PPG

Despite how it may seem sometimes, the MVP award does mean the Most Valuable Player award and not the Best Player on Best Team award, and so how important one is to the success of their team should be a factor. In 2015-2016, Stephen Curry was very important to the 73-9 Golden State Warriors. He led both the league in points per game, win shares and box plus minus, and so he was definitely a very valuable and important player to the Golden State Warriors. However, there is still an argument to be made that the Golden State Warriors would still be a decent team without Stephen Curry. They had two other legitimate stars, in Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, and 49.9 win shares without Curry, meaning that the team would probably still have a fair shot at the playoffs.

On the other hand, this year’s Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder, do not have that luxury of a terrific supporting cast. They both lead their teams in points, rebounds and assists per game, and are both top three in the league in box plus minus, and it’s safe to say without them, their teams would be two of the league’s worst. However, Westbrook gets the slight edge over Harden because of his league-leading box plus minus and crazy usage percentage, which happens to be the highest of all time. He is currently doing the most that any player has needed to do for his team, and that should be something rewarded.

Verdict: #1 Russell Westbrook, #2 James Harden, #3 Stephen Curry

Category #6: Team Success

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Evidence:

2015-2016 Golden State Warriors: 73-9 team record, blew a 3-1 lead (sorry, couldn’t help it)

2016-2017 Houston Rockets: 30-9 team record

2016-2017 Oklahoma City Thunder: 22-16

Whether it be a good indicator or not, team success does play an enormous part in deciding the MVP of the league, and due to the fact that the team’s record is pretty much an indisputable measurement of team success, this makes my job a bit easier.

Verdict: #1 Stephen Curry, #2 James Harden, #3 Russell Westbrook

Final Ruling: 2015-2016 Stephen Curry

March 29, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) celebrates against the Washington Wizards during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the fact that James Harden and Russell Westbrook are both having terrific seasons, I still need to give this one to Steph, as his advanced numbers give him the slight edge over Harden and Westbrook, as he was the most efficient player, as well as that, as dumb as it may sound, 73-9 is just too good to overcome. As well as that, his per game numbers despite not quite being at Westbrook or Harden level are still very good. His win shares per game are also better than Harden and Westbrook, and so I think he would probably still deserving of this award.

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