The comparison of James Harden and Russell Westbrook will be one of the most popular in the NBA over the next few years. There will be many who judge the Oklahoma City Thunder within the comparison, since in a way they picked Westbrook over Harden, although it’s a little bit more complicated than that.
Westbrook and Harden are two of the best guards in the NBA right now and may eventually become No. 1 and 2 a year or so from now. There are a lot of differences between the two though.
One interesting difference I see is the predictability factor of the two. You could argue that Westbrook is the most unpredictable player in the league (in terms of his offensive moves) while Harden is very predictable (in the sense that, I know what’s coming and I still can’t stop it).
Harden’s predictability culminates nearly always when he elects to finish drives to the rim with the Euro-step, which he demonstrates in the video above. The move became most popular earlier in the 2000s by Manu Ginobili, who exemplified a lot of the same qualities that Harden does now when he was in his prime.
While Westbrook can also pull off a devastating Euro-step at times, you never really know what’s coming from him. His athleticism allows himself to pull off crazy moves at the last split-second and finish at the rim or anywhere in a variety of manners.
It’s something that makes Harden’s game prettier and more aesthetically pleasing in a sense. I used to think of Harden’s game at attacking on offense as like s symphony. Everything was planned and he went through step-by-step to pick apart a defense.
When Westbrook misses shots, it often will look ugly because of the unpredictability factor. But when they go in, you’re left shaking your head in amazement that he was able to pull off the move. A make is a make and a miss is a miss but we still care a lot about what a player looks like regardless of the results, which is something that earns Westbrook a lot of the criticism he receives I think.
My question today with the two, is which is better, to be predictable and still unstoppable or unpredictable and unstoppable?
The positives of Harden’s predictability can also become the negatives. In his last year with the Thunder, he struggled mightily against the Heat. The reason I believe is because they prepared to defend him better than anyone. They took away his immediate angle to attack off the pick-and-roll and were ready to step in front of him and take charges when he got into the paint. They knew what was coming and were able to combat it. The Thunder were able to defend Harden the same way last year in Harden’s first season with the Rockets.
The thing with Westbrook is not even the Heat are able to account for one of those nights when he is going off (see Game 4 of the 2012 NBA Finals when he scored 43 points). Westbrook’s unpredictability is such an advantage because he is a better athlete than nearly everyone in the league, so no one can stay in front of him one-on-one.
The main difference I see is that Harden appears more consistent because of his game. But consistency can be bad if a team has you figured out, like the Heat did in the 2012 Finals.
Westbrook’s craziness gives him the potential to have a horrible shooting night against a bad team in the league during the regular season. But even against the best defense on the biggest of stages, he has the potential to go off.
In the end, I feel with many things when comparing Westbrook and Harden, it comes down to a manner of taste. What do you and your team prefer? The consistency that Harden brings or the higher ceiling yet inconsistency of Westbrook?
I like having the highest ceiling, even if you aren’t getting there enough. I feel like Westbrook’s ceiling is just ridiculous, which is evident by the huge amounts of criticism he receives, yet he is still widely regarded as a top 10 player in the league. On any given night, if Westbrook fixes his flaws, he becomes the best player on the floor.
Harden can be the best player on the floor too but once you’ve figured him out, I’ve yet to see him adjust and still be dominant. That’s why I’ll always take Westbrook and that’s why the Thunder take him too.