James Harden is not yet a household name. He’s in his fifth season in the National Basketball Association, and to the casual fan he’s just recognized as that dude with the beard. But among his contemporaries, he has the most feared beard in sports since street fighter; Kimbo Slice was knocking people out via YouTube.
Harden, a three-time all-star, is at the cusp of stardom. He has played at most valuable player level all year, winning consecutive player of the month awards (December 2014 & January 2015).
Harden leads the league in scoring at 27 points per game and has always been known as a player that can score. But the most impressive part of his basketball development, is the improvement he’s made in areas other than scoring.
He’s averaging a respectable 5 rebounds a game from the guard position. He leads the league in most free throw makes (384) and free throw attempts (434)—that rounds out to 9 free throws per game, while making 87% of his shots from the line. Harden is a full-time facilitator of the ball for the Rockets, his 6 assists per game is 2nd in the league for non-point guards.
The biggest knock against James Harden, in the past, has been has lack of effort on defense. Not anymore. He has made a conscious effort this season to improve defensively; his 2 steals per game is 3rd in the league.
“The Barber”, is Hardens’ given nickname by NBA TV analyst, Steve Smith, who is often feature in Smitty’s top five plays under the rim because he’s able to cut your defense down with his moves, is the catalyst that ignites the Houston Rockets. He very is effective at changing his pace on offense.
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When he has the ball in his hand, he can rock opponents to sleep with his cross dribble and mesmerize a defender by quickly bouncing the ball from right to left hand.
While keeping the ball low to the ground, he bounces it back and forth until he hits them with a quick jab stepping towards the basket and putting that defender on the proverbial roller skates. He stops on a dime, and then the back step, which creates just enough space to release his lethal jump shot.
The defender has just been caught “star gazing”. Going against Harden sometimes seems hopeless to anyone defending him, and it appears, the best defense is to just hope that he misses the shot.
Last month former teammate and current Maverick player, Chandler Parsons said, “For sure. He’s the best player in basketball right now”. Being the best player in the NBA doesn’t guarantee being named MVP of the league. The MVP is an individual award, however the criteria for being crowned most valuable player is to elevate his respected team to the best record in the league or winning their division and him making his teammates better.
The Houston Rockets are currently 3rd in the Western Conference standings, due to Harden’s consistent play from the beginning of the season until the All-Star break. Without Harden, the Rockets wouldn’t be in playoff contention – period. So with that being said, it’s hard to deny that James Harden is the (mid season) MVP.