- Harden won MVP in 2018 and has been in the top five in voting the last five seasons
- Westbrook won MVP in 2017 and has averaged a triple-double three straight years
- Are either worthy of an MVP wager after joining forces in Houston?
At one point in their NBA lives, James Harden and Russell Westbrook were young up-and-coming stars, seemingly perfect complimentary pieces to their other young star teammate in Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant.
Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti worked with Westbrook and his agent, Thad Foucher, to deliver the former MVP to his preferred destination: A reunion with James Harden, per sources.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 12, 2019
Flash forward and the two are now bonafide mega-stars in the NBA. Each has an MVP trophy, and an unmistakable playing style that features them as the holder of the rock at virtually every offensive moment in a game.
No wonder their 2020 NBA MVP odds have each taken a hit this week, as Westbrook was traded to Houston to jumpstart Harden and the Rockets back into contention.
NBA MVP Odds
|Player||Odds at MyBookie|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)||+300|
|Stephen Curry (Warriors)||+500|
|James Harden (Rockets)||+700|
|Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)||+800|
|LeBron James (Lakers)||+900|
|Anthony Davis (Lakers)||+1000|
|Joel Embbid (76ers)||+1200|
|Nikola Jokic (Nuggets)||+1600|
|Luka Doncic (Mavericks)||+1600|
|Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves)||+2000|
|Paul George (Clippers)||+2500|
|Russell Westbrook (Rockets)||+2500|
*Odds taken July 13. Click the link in the table for the full list of NBA MVP odds
Harden was at an average of +630 before the trade and is now +700. Westbrook was at an average of +1400 before fading to +2500.
Are either of these previous MVP winners worth a beat to do it again?
Mega-Pairing May Cancel Each Other Out
This is the classic Steph Curry-Kevin Durant pairing reincarnated. As their own satellite systems, Curry won back-to-back MVP crowns. Durant won his lone trophy the year prior – and only because teammate Westbrook played 46 games due to injury. Once the pair came together in Oakland? Neither was ever a legitimate contender, despite the Warriors being the consensus best team in the league, and neither averaging less than 25 points a game in that three-year stretch.
The only teammates in NBA history to win a title together after each winning an MVP in a previous season:
David Robinson & Tim Duncan (’03)
Kevin Durant & Steph Curry (’16, ’17)
Can James Harden & Russell Westbrook replicate this feat? pic.twitter.com/BVY2BUZ2fs
— Blake Green (@StatVine) July 12, 2019
This will actually be an exceptional case study this season to see if a player from a star pairing can achieve the MVP crown, because it hasn’t happened in the 2000s. This year, along with the newly minted Harden-Westbrook duo, there’s LeBron-Anthony Davis and Kawhi-Paul George. And next year, add KD-Kyrie to that mix.
Average finish at the MVP race since 2014:
1. James Harden: 3.5
2. LeBron James: 4.2
3. Russell Westbrook: 4.8
4. Stephen Curry: 4.8
5. Kevin Durant: 6 pic.twitter.com/lDAWYWOok6
— Play Gary Clark (NBA (@Itamar1710) June 25, 2019
The closest you could come to an MVP paired to a prolific scorer in the last five years has been Curry with Klay Thompson. And while Thompson is a walking heat-check, he’s actually an overqualified second option.
After that pairing, you’d have to go back to the Miami Heat heyday, when LeBron James won back-to-back crowns alongside Dwyane Wade, but again, Wade was in steady decline, and was on a maintenance plan in LeBron’s second MVP season that limited him to 50 games.
What’s the Best Bet to Make?
If you’re looking at the Houston pairing, Harden is still a worthy wager. Bettors can look at what happened in OKC last year, as Westbrook ceded much of the heavy lifting to George, and the result was an MVP-level season for the forward (until shoulder injuries derailed the run).
His troublesome shooting last season: 42.8% from the field and a ghastly 29% from three point range could be shielded in Houston if Harden is comfortable letting Russ initiate the offense, and getting the ball later in the shot clock, but in more opportune scoring areas. Of the Beard’s 1000+ three point attempts last season, less than 100 were of the catch and shoot variety. That should change drastically in this system. Westbrook is coming off his third straight triple-double average campaign, and he could still do it riding shotgun to Harden’s prolific scoring.
— Warriors Nation (@WarriorNationCP) July 4, 2019
In the end, Giannis being the lone alpha in Milwaukee is why he’s the MVP favorite, but there are a couple of others to look out for. Curry (+500) has a season starting with just Draymond Green healthy, and all the vestiges of a former dynasty gone (Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston). But he does have D’Angelo Russell and a regular season that is far from the intense playoff battering he took.
Anthony Davis is going to be league MVP this coming season.
— Vegan Boogie Cousins (@Irv_Do) July 10, 2019
And don’t sleep on Anthony Davis (+1000). Much of the talk is about how the Lakers lost Kawhi, but people forget that AD was the consensus next ‘it’ guy in the league. He’s one season removed from a 28.1 point, 11.1 rebound campaign where he shot 53.4% from the field and led the league with 2.6 blocks a contest. And that was with a spare parts roster.
Let's have fun and keep it civil.