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Henry Liao

NBA MVP: Westbrook or Harden?

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Recently-retired National Basketball Association and Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryant said that point guards Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and James Harden of the Houston Rockets should share the league?s Most Valuable Player award this season.

With the declaration, Bryant was probably just being polite and his belief may be politically correct considering the tight MVP derby that is expected to come down to a toss-up between Westbrook and Harden, both of whom have had mind-boggling individual accomplishments to back up their respective cases ? even if statistics have never been a basis for MVP selection since the league institutionalized the award in 1955-56.

Until 1979-80, the players controlled the MVP balloting. But since 1980-81, the sportswriters and broadcasters that covered the league games have taken over the chores.

Though, it has likely come down to Westbrook and Harden, a one-time Manila visitor, it does not mean there are no other worthy MVP contenders in this history-filled season. There?s Cleveland?s LeBron James, a four-time awardee in the past; San Antonio?s Kawhi Leonard, and even Golden State?s Stephen Curry, the back-to-back reigning titlist whose Warriors have secured the best regular-season record in the NBA for the third consecutive year.

To have a tie for the MVP award when this has never ever happened before is easier said than done.

The NBA MVP voting system is the culprit. A nationwide media panel of 125 sportswriters and broadcasters ? three from each of the 30 member clubs that cover the league games and the remainder by national media ? does the balloting. They are asked to name their top five choices according to their preferences with points being assigned (10 points for a first-place vote, 7 for second, 5 for third, 3 for fourth and 1 for fifth) on the basis of their rankings.

It?s the overall points accumulated ? and not the number of first-place votes secured ? that will determine the MVP winner.
As such, the voting system would likely preclude the possibility of a deadlock in the race for the Maurice Podoloff (MVP) hardware. Only an identical points total by multiple players will produce a tie.

There have been cases in the past where one player had the most first-place votes and yet lost the MVP race. The most recent occurrence came in 1990 when burly forward Charles Barkley of the Philadelphia 76ers had 11 more first-place votes than the eventual winner Magic Johnson of the LA Lakers.

During the 1961-62 wars, Oscar Robertson of the Cincinnati Royals (the predecessors of the Sacramento Kings) chalked up 41 triple-double games and registered a T-D average, but the ?Big O? placed only third in the MVP race.

That same campaign, the Philadelphia Warriors' Wilt Chamberlain had his 100-point game for an all-time NBA record and averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds - both NBA season highs - in 80 games. The Big Dipper finished only second in the MVP poll by the players.
The winner: Boston's Bill Russell (18.9 ppg, 23.6 rpg).

Note that at the time, and even as it is now, regular-season stats were only used as a guide, nothing more.

Russell, of course, went on to power the title-streaking Celtics to the NBA crown in 1961-62.

The 6-3 Westbrook posted his 42nd triple-double game of the season today ? 50 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in 37 minutes during the Thunder?s 106-105 win over the Nuggets in Denver on his first career game-winning buzzer beater, a three-pointer from 36 feet ? to shatter the old NBA single-season record for T-D games he previously shared with Robertson.

With two games remaining (at Minnesota, Apr. 12, Manila time; and against visiting Denver, Apr. 13, MT), Westbrook is averaging a nine-year career-high 31.9 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists in 80 appearances for the playoffs-bound Oklahoma City, which is seeded sixth in the Western Conference with a 46-34 record.

Westbrook is a cinch to capture his second NBA scoring title. The first came in 2014-15 when he normed 28.1 ppg in 67 assignments for a Thunder unit that missed the playoffs.

In contrast, the 6-5 Harden himself has produced an NBA second-leading 21 triple-doubles, including a 35-point, 11-rebound, 15-assist performance in the playoffs-headed Rockets? 135-128 road victory over the Sacramento Kings today.

In averaging an eight-year career highs of 29.4 points (in a tight battle with Boston?s Isiah Thomas for second place in the NBA) and 11.3 assists (best in the majors) and grabbing 8.1 rebounds in 79 outings (he missed a game due to flu), ?The Beard? has powered Houston to the third-best record in the West at 54-26 (with two games remaining) after the Rockets barely qualified for the postseason a year ago as the West?s No. 8 seed at 41-41.

In NBA history only once did a player lead the NBA in scoring and assists in the same season - the Kansas City-Omaha Kings' Nate Archibald (34.0 ppg, 11.4 apg), who turned in the trick in 1972-73.

The NBA MVP polls may yet turn out to be a popularity contest. If it were so, Westbrook may get the shorter end of the stick as the UCLA alum does not exactly enjoy a harmonious relationship with the media.

The Washington Post, a U.S. national newspaper, recently did a survey among more than 100 potential MVP voters and the 27-year-old Harden won by a reasonable margin over the 28-year-old Westbrook.

Unlike in the past, when the awardees in the various categories were announced on a staggered basis, all the awards will be given during a first-ever Special Awards' show on TNT cable television That will be the week after the NBA draft, June 26 (June 27 Manila time), in New York..

The NBA players themselves will have their own awards for a third consecutive year in special ceremonies after the playoffs, which get underway on Sunday April 16, Manila time. In 2014-15, the players voted Harden for MVP as opposed to the official NBA winner Curry. Last season, both the NBA and its players were unanimous in their selection of Curry as the MVP.
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