On Tuesday, Houston Rockets point guard James Harden answered a simple question: How is his former Oklahoma City Thunder team different without superstar forward Kevin Durant?
His response: "It's Russ. It's Russ and it's a one-man show."
Sure, Russell Westbrook, a walking triple-double, is a one-man band. He has to be for the Thunder to come within a hair of the Western Conference playoff picture, and with a 6-5 record, OKC would be eighth if the postseason began today.
But if there’s a case of “the pot calling the kettle black” in the NBA, this is it.
New Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has unleashed his MVP-caliber guard like we’ve never seen before. On Wednesday, Westbrook and Harden will go head-to-head in the first of their four matchups on the season.
In the spirit of high-usage basketball, we’ve put together a formula to figure out which star guard is the bigger “one-man show.”
First, we need to find out which team scored more points with its respective MVP in the game.
Through 10 games, Houston’s scored 891 points and is a plus-87 with Harden on the floor. The Rockets have scored 82.6 percent of their 1,078 total points with him in the game.
Westbrook isn’t far behind. Oklahoma City has posted 862 (76 percent) of its 1,134 points with the energetic point guard on the floor, and he is second behind Steven Adams with a total plus-minus of 72.
Of the 891 points the Rockets have tallied with Harden on the floor, The Beard has scored 303 (34 percent). That number pales in comparison to Westbrook, whose 352 points on the season — second-most behind Damian Lillard — account for 40.8 percent of the Thunder’s scoring with him on the floor.
Both Harden and Westbrook rank in the top five in the league in total points scored.
Next, we have to find out who’s creating the most scoring opportunities for his teammates.
James Harden’s 126 assists have led to 312 Rockets points. That’s another 35 percent of Houston’s total points Harden accounts for when he’s on the floor.
Westbrook’s 109 assists, on the other hand, have led to 252 points for Oklahoma City, accounting for 29.2 percent of Thunder scoring with solely his passing.
For reference, LeBron James has also assisted on 252 Cavaliers points, Chris Paul has 214 for the Clippers, and Draymond Green has 174 for Golden State.
From here, it’s simple math.
Harden’s points scored (303) plus his points assisted on (312) accounts for 615, or 69 percent, of Houston’s 891 points with him on the floor.
Westbrook, though, just edges him out. His 352 points scored and 252 points assisted on account for 604, or 70 percent, of OKC’s points scored with him on the floor.
Other players with similar percentages include Cleveland’s LeBron James (56 percent of total offense while on the floor), Boston’s Isaiah Thomas (56 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (50 percent), Golden State’s Stephen Curry (47.6 percent) and Kevin Durant (43.5 percent), and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis (43.3 percent).
So Harden was right, but just by a hair.
Westbrook is a one-man show. Averaging 32 points, 9.9 assists and 9.7 rebounds per game, he’s on pace to have a season the NBA has only seen once before.
But so is Harden. At 30.3 points and 12.6 assists per game, both he and Westbrook could join Oscar Robertson as the only players in league history to post 30-point, 10-assist averages over a full season.
Now with teams of their own, two guys who were once teammates are on pace to shatter long-standing NBA records. Westbrook can thank Durant’s shocking summertime decision to ditch Oklahoma City for Golden State, thus freeing the lone “Westwolf” to run rampant for the foreseeable future.
As for Harden? He can thank D’Antoni, whose “Seven Seconds Or Less” offense built on high pick-and-pops with an army of sharp-shooters unleashed The Beard’s final form as the league’s premier “points guard.”
In the end, though, both Harden and Westbrook are one-man bands. And if they’re going head-to-head four times this season, fans watching the two of them shoot the fair one isn’t a bad idea at all.