James Harden and Russell Westbrook are both having historic seasons. That’s undeniable. James Harden and Russell Westbrook are giving us as good an MVP race as we’ve ever seen. That’s also undeniable.
But what’s also undeniable is the fatal flaw in both that’s seldom talked about.
Both players have a turnover problem. A massive turnover problem.
Let’s start with Harden.
While he’s leading the league in assists, he doing it as inefficiently as possible. He’s already shattered the record for most turnover in a season, with 5 games still to play. But this isn’t anything new for the beard. Last year, his 374 turnovers put him at 6th on the all-time list. But he’s reached new heights (lows??) this season.
His 440 turnovers thus far having him pulling away from the pack, leaving George McGinnis’ 422 turnovers (the previous record) in the dust. The only company he’s going to have up there (or down there??) is… Russell Westbrook.
As inefficient as Harden’s been, Westbrook’s right there with him. Given his ridiculous usage rate, however, Westbrook’s turnovers can be excused to a degree. But not to this degree. At this current rate, he’ll be less than twenty turnovers behind Harden at season’s end. Interesting how two of the “greatest seasons ever” are only two of the most inefficient.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Some legendary postseasons have been plagued by turnovers, and those teams still turned out alright. The most notable, and most recent example of this is LeBron James in the 2016 Finals.
His 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio for the series was poor and, in fact, on par with the assist-to-turnover ratio for Westbrook and Harden this year. But that’s misleading. In fact, it actually proves my point. In the first four games, LeBron posted an appalling ratio, and hence, the Cavs were faced with a 3-1 deficit.
But with their backs against the wall in Games 5 and 6, LeBron had undoubtedly his two greatest games of the series (and arguably his career), and posted a 19-3 combined assist-to-turnover ratio. That’s over 6 assists per turnover. For comparison, the NBA’s leader in that category this season is Andre Iguodala, with a ratio just over 4.
And this presents a problem for our two MVP candidates. Their dismal ratios and overall turnover problems do not bode well against other top teams. They did luck out in the first round, though, as they’re liking going to be facing each other, their turnovers canceling out.
But whoever advances will be in for a rude awakening in the second round if they don’t clean up. The later you get into the postseason, the more the little things count. Turnovers are the epitome of the “little things”. You can put up all the numbers in the world, but if you turn the ball over in the playoffs, your team isn’t going all that far. History tells us this, and now, more than ever, history will likely repeat itself in identical fashion.