Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden: Who is the Better Point Guard?

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Basketball has always been a tall man’s sport, but the point guard is probably the most critical position. He influences every aspect of the game– the flow, the play-calling, and defense at the point of attack. Two of the best point modern-day point guards are Russell Westbrook and James Harden. When comparing Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden, who is better at the running point?

Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden_ NBA Career OverviewRussell Westbrook vs. James Harden: NBA Career Overview

Whether you’re a Westbrook or Harden fan, you can’t probably talk about one without mentioning the other. Westbrook and Harden were teammates in OKC for multiple seasons, and if not for the front office’s unwillingness to pay Harden, that would still have been the case for years. Westbrook played more of a starring role for the Thunder, while Harden was the team’s sixth man

To its credit, the Thunder franchise struck gold by drafting Westbrook (2008) and Harden (2009) in back-to-back years. These moves allowed them to contend in the early 2010s, but OKC decided to move Harden because of money constraints.

Russell Westbrook’s Career Arc: Early OKC Years

Now, let’s talk about Westbrook first. Brodie, as he’s sometimes called, was the fourth pick in the 2008 draft coming out of UCLA. He played more of a shooting guard for the Bruins, but Sam Presti was convinced he could be a point guard at the next level. Westbrook rewarded Presti’s faith with a fine rookie showing and a spot in the All-Rookie second team.

Westbrook built on a solid rookie season with another great second year, this time as the team’s starting point guard. His point guard skills, especially passing, were conceivably better. The 2010 postseason was the coming-out party for Westbrook and the rest of the Thunder. As the 8th seed, they drew the defending champs Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, giving them everything they could handle in six games.

After these improvements, Brodie made the leap as an All-Star the following year. He continued his statistical ascent alongside Kevin Durant, and both were forces to be reckoned with in the West for many years. He made the All-Star team in five of the next six seasons, only missing the mid-year classic in 2014 because of an injury he sustained in the 2013 playoffs. 

With Brodie at the helm, the Thunder made the NBA Finals (2012) and the Western Conference Finals (2016). They lost to the eventual champs, Golden State Warriors, in the 2016 Conference Finals after being up 3-1.

Russell Westbrook’s Career Arc: MVP and Journeyman

In the 2016 offseason, Durant left in free agency and signed with the Warriors. Durant’s departure allowed Westbrook to exclusively run the show in OKC. The 2016-17 season marked a string of three consecutive years where Westbrook averaged a triple-double, resulting in one MVP trophy and two All-NBA First-Team selections.

Even with Westbrook’s individual success, the Thunder were bounced out of the first round each time. OKC decided to move on from Westbrook in 2019 by trading him to the Rockets, where he reunited with Harden. 

After a second-round exit in Houston, Westbrook was traded to the Washington Wizards in 2020, to the Lakers in 2021, and finally to the Jazz before the 2023 trade deadline. Utah bought him out of his contract, and he eventually decided to return to Los Angeles and sign with the Clippers for the rest of the season.

James Harden’s Career Arc: Early OKC Years, Trade to Houston, and Current Team

In Oklahoma City, Harden played behind Westbrook and Durant’s shadow for many years. He agreed to play off the bench for coach Scott Brooks since this gave the team more balance and stability. 

Harden was your typical microwave scorer off the bench for the Thunder in his first three seasons. He subs in and becomes the secondary ballhandler and primary scorer against opposing reserves. The Beard’s willingness to be a top reserve was recognized in 2011-12 as he became the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.

The problem between Harden and OKC happened in their contract extension negotiations. The team’s front office reportedly offered a four-year extension worth at least $52 million and gave Harden limited time to decide. This led to a fallout, and instead of letting Harden walk for nothing, they traded him to Houston.

Harden wasted little time showing what he could do in H-Town. He quickly became a threat all over the court, from scoring on three levels to setting teammates up for easy buckets. In time, though, The Beard made the full-time shift to point guard, which led to a career-high and league-leading 11.2 assists per game in 2016-17.

Point guard Harden presented different problems for opposing defenses. He was too big for many other guards but too crafty to be defended by small forwards. Harden continued to develop his game, leading to an MVP award in 2018 and 10 straight All-Star appearances. He also led the league in scoring from 2018 until 2020.

Even with Harden’s individual success, Houston could not get over the hump against the Warriors. The Harden-Chris Paul pairing in 2019 almost ended Golden State’s run but couldn’t get it done. Harden eventually forced his way out of Houston and got traded to the Brooklyn Nets. After a season and a half with the Nets, Harden was dealt to the Sixers and formed a formidable duo with Joel Embiid.

How Does Westbrook Compare to HardenHow Does Westbrook Compare to Harden?

Westbrook and Harden are polar opposites, the Yin and Yang, as far as playstyles are concerned. However, they are both successful in their own ways. It’s also interesting to note that these superstars are natural two-guards but had to change their game to accommodate the team’s needs. Westbrook became a full-time point guard in his second year in OKC, while Harden became one in Houston.

Here is a look at the Westbrook vs. Harden debate, focusing on their accomplishments:

Russell Westbrook’s Accomplishments

  • Westbrook is yet to win an NBA championship and has only been to the Finals once. Ironically, his lone Finals appearance was in 2012 with the Thunder when he was still teammates with James Harden.
  • Brodie won his lone NBA MVP in 2017. It’s the first season of KD’s departure and Westbrook ran the Thunder show all season. That year was also the first time since 1962 that somebody averaged a triple-double in an entire season. Westbrook went on to have two more seasons averaging a triple-dub.
  • Russell Westbrook is a nine-time NBA All-Star and won All-Star game MVP honors twice. He is a nine-time All-NBA team member, twice named to the First Team, five times to the Second Team, and two more selections to the Third Team.
  • Westbrook led the league in assists three times and in scoring twice. He was named to the 75th Anniversary team.
  • Brodie has 198 career triple-doubles, which is first all-time. That’s 17 triple-doubles more than Oscar Robertson, who had 181.

James Harden’s Accomplishments

  • As previously mentioned, Harden’s only Finals appearance was in 2012 with the OKC Thunder. He hasn’t been to the Finals since.
  • James Harden was the NBA MVP in 2018 when he led the Rockets to the first seed in the Western Conference and the best record in the league.
  • Harden made the All-Star team for 10 consecutive years, from 2013 to 2022. He is a seven-time All-NBA team member, six in the First Team and once in the Third Team.
  • Aside from being named Sixth Man of the Year, Harden also led the league in scoring three times and assists once. Like Westbrook, Harden is also part of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary team.

Russell Westbrook’s Stats Compared to James HardenRussell Westbrook’s Stats Compared to James Harden

There are few players who can accumulate counting stats better than Westbrook and Harden. Both players are entrusted to handle the ball for their teams, allowing them to score or pass whenever they want to.

Check out this Westbrook vs. Harden stats comparison:

Regular Season Russell Westbrook James Harden
Points Per Game 22.4 24.7
Rebounds Per Game 7.3 5.7
Assists Per Game 8.4 7.3
Steals Per Game 1.6 1.5
Blocks Per Game 0.3 0.5
Threes Made Per Game 1.1 2.8
Career FG% .438 .442
Career 3FG% .305 .362
Career FT% .778 .860

From these stats alone, you already what type of player these guys are. Westbrook likes to mix it up inside for rebounds, push the ball, and get everyone involved. Harden is more of a natural scorer, although he is an able and willing passer. He is also a more efficient scorer and shooter than Westbrook, primarily because he plays in a more deliberate manner.

Will this same pattern show in their playoff numbers? Check it out:

Playoffs Russell Westbrook James Harden
Points Per Game 24.6 22.9
Rebounds Per Game 7.1 5.5
Assists Per Game 7.9 6.2
Steals Per Game 1.8 1.7
Blocks Per Game 0.3 0.5
Threes Made Per Game 1.4 2.5
FG% .408 .426
3FG% .296 .335
FT% .827 .869

The biggest thing you may observe in their playoff averages is that Westbrook scores more than Harden, but it’s actually because Brodie attempts almost 21 shots from the field over Harden’s 16. 

Harden’s efficiency also suffers in the playoffs, but not as bad as Westbrook shooting less than 30% from three and just a shade above 40% from the field (on 21 attempts). It’s also worth noting that Harden has played in 149 playoff games already, while Westbrook has 111.

James Harden’s Impact on the NBA

James Harden’s Impact on the NBA

James Harden is at the forefront of the NBA’s analytics evolution. Under the leadership of Daryl Morey in the front office, Harden taught the league a new way to play offense, taking only layups and threes while turning down long twos and midrange jumpers. 

Morey’s plan only works because of Harden’s skillset. He is an elite playmaker who can take his man off the dribble, make the right play when forced to give up the ball, and knock down the three when open. Harden is also in a league of his own when it comes to attracting contact, making him one of the league leaders in free throw attempts.

Therefore, Harden’s impact in the NBA is about efficiency and choosing your shots. He has practically taken away contested twos in his game, although he can still hit a midrange J every once in a while.

Another Harden influence in NBA basketball is the step-back. Sure, his “footwork” sparks endless debate, but he was the one who made the move so popular. So, whenever you see kids doing a step-back jumper today, you can bet they’re watching The Beard pull off that move every game.

Russell Westbrook’s Impact on the NBA

Russell Westbrook’s Impact on the NBA

Russell Westbrook is a pioneer in a generation of ultra-athletic point guards. Fans seldom see a 6-foot-3 guy who attacks as ferociously as Russ but also as unselfish. You can see his impact today when you see the likes of Ja Morant, or to a lesser extent, Markelle Fultz knife their way to the rim, elevating over the defense.

Brodie also developed the reputation of always being available to play. He seldom misses games, an underrated part of his legacy. Westbrook is also known as an excellent teammate who always has his team’s back no matter what happens.

All in all, Russ will be remembered for his insane speed, athleticism, and intensity. He can affect the game in various ways, whether scoring, passing, wreaking havoc on the boards, or everything in between. His game may not age well because it’s founded in otherworldly athleticism, but boy, was it fun to watch!

Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden DebateRussell Westbrook vs. James Harden Debate

Picking a side in the Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden debate is subjective and based on personal preference. Of course, the scales will tilt in favor of whoever contributes to a title run, but for now, Westbrook vs. Harden is pretty even.

You may favor Westbrook if you want a point guard who can attack the rim all night while keeping the defense on its heels with his passing. Harden, on the other hand, is a better three-level scorer and a knockdown shooter you can’t leave alone from beyond the arc. You choose one or the other, depending on the team’s makeup.

Judging by how their games evolved until today, Harden has a chance to be better as he ages. His game is not predicated on athleticism but on craftiness and knockdown shooting. Westbrook can still run and hang, but he’s better off with a team with shooters in all positions like the Clippers. If he’s not, like his time with the Lakers, he will look like the worst contract in NBA history.

Wrapping Things Up: Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden: Who is the Better Point Guard?

Russell Westbrook and James Harden had been teammates twice in their careers. They were drafted one year apart and have defined a generation of NBA basketball. 

Interestingly, Westbrook and Harden were not point guards coming out of college. They changed their games to accommodate the team’s needs and went on to become two of the best point guards in the 2010s. Both were also one-time league MVPs while bagging multiple All-Star and All-NBA selections along the way.

So here’s the million-dollar question: Who is the better point guard between Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden? The answer lies mainly in a team’s needs or a fan’s preference. If you like athleticism and transition basketball, you go with Westbrook. Teams with personnel to run a half-court offense are better with Harden on the helm because of his efficiency. Either way, as long as they’re surrounded by teammates that complement their skills, Westbrook and Harden will make the most out of every opportunity.

We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.

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Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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