James Harden and Russell Westbrook Numbers- Legend Or Myth

Eric Rodas
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The entire argument about inflated numbers in order to tarnish the achievements of legendary players sounds like a millennial ploy to hide the fact that today’s game has been reworked and simplified. Simplified in order to promote a faster pace guard-oriented sport at the expense of defensive integrity. Not to say that the statistical feats of Russell Westbrook and James Harden aren’t impressive, but not at the expense of what one Oscar Robertson has accomplished during his Hall of Fame, yet underrated and barely spoken about, career.

For all you numbers guys, you must take into consideration that the 1961-62 season was not the only season that the “Big O” could have averaged a triple-double. He barely missed it his rookie season with a 30.5 ppg, 10.1 rpg and 9.7 apg effort. Then again in the 62-63 season, he averaged 28.3 ppg, 10.4 rpg, and 9.5 apg. In 63-64, he missed it with a 31.4 ppg, 9.9 rpg, and 11.0 apg out put. Finally, in 64-65 he missed by a slim margin again with a 30.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg, and 11.5 apg. So if your argument was that the 1961-62 season was an anomaly, you just saw how he came into the league ready to do his thing.

The best argument you can come up with for that season was that the pace of the game distorted their statistical out-puts. I give you that pace may have been a factor but why isn’t anybody calling Steve Nash’s (or James Harden’s) statistical endeavors, produced from an offense of which it’s primary objective was to hasten the pace of the game in seven seconds or less, inflated. The implication of most writers, analyst, and NBA aficionados is the fact that game is so much better because it has been sped up to a more likeable velocity with all these new hybrid athletes that did not exist in the past.

It would be more feasible that the NBA had changed a major rule that in effect would have unnaturally sped up the game to cause this statistical spike but the shot clock had already been introduced back in 1954-55. Although it may provide more opportunities to be productive, the number of minutes played does not directly correlate to level of production and nor does number of possessions for that matter.

In comparison, today’s game has dramatically changed in terms of offensive structure and defensive limitations. The traditional NBA offensive set for that time and for much of the 90’s was comprised of two pivot players. For the most part, they did not stray from the paint with many post up and screening options which lead to much more physical play offensively and defensively as a result. To grab a rebound and score in the paint with the likes of Nate Thurmond, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain would be a true accomplishment for some one only 6’5” in stature.

The Big O also managed to average 30.8 points per game with out the benefit of a 3-point line, which was not instituted into the NBA until the 1979-80 season. That same season, the NBA went from two officials to three which could imply that the league was even more physical than once thought of. Defensively, beginning with the 1994-95 season, players have been prohibited any kind of contact with the offensive player. Paired with stretch four and spread out offenses, an argument can be made that it is easier to achieve a triple-double because these significant rule and style changes.

The unfair pace of the 61-62 season doesn’t seem to overshadow the statistical out put that Russell Westbrook had this season. In fact their numbers are pretty similar despite the advantage that Oscar, theoretically, had by playing in the aforementioned season. Oscar accumulated 30.8 ppg, 11.4 apg, and 12.5 rpg on 1,810 field goal attempts in 44.3 minutes of play while Russell acquired 31.9 ppg, 10.4 apg, and 10.7 rpg on 1,931 field goal attempts in 34.8 minutes of play. They both shot at a 48% clip. The advantage would be in whether you thought that more shot attempts (121) is better than more minutes played (15 games worth) or visa versa. At the rate these players rest, it seems that more shot attempts would be a more attractive bargain.

When it comes down to it, the pace of the game has not significantly changed over years as much as the style and rules have. Although the league seems a lot quicker than yesteryear, the fact remains that teams still play a mixture of half court ball and transition ball. Some teams are known for an up-tempo style and others are known for their half court execution. The league has now gotten to the point that style is trying to push pace with the indiscriminate utilization of the three point shot but it seems to be balancing out with terrible shot selection.

In the end, the shinning light of this entire season has been the chase for MVP via statistical supremacy. James Harden has found his game in a new system and Russell Westbrook has stepped up to the challenge of being a franchise player. This first round match up should be phenomenal. It should be the difference between myth and legend. Stay woke kin folk…

Eric Rodas

Los Angeles, California

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