Feb 3, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) directs traffic during the third quarter against the Chicago Bulls at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Playing better than he’s ever played before, the MVP is James Harden’s award to lose this season.
James Harden is considered by most to be the front-runner for MVP now. He has guided a decent Houston Rockets team to the third seed in the league’s tougher conference, and he’s done it by playing an absurd amount of minutes, sacrificing his body, and putting his heart out on the line for his team.
He’s averaging 28.8 points per game with an incredible 11.3 assists to go along with it. Sure, Russell Westbrook may be posting the same numbers, maybe even better, but the Oklahoma City Thunder are nowhere near the Rockets in the standings. In fact, they are seventh in the Western Conference, something that we’re not used to seeing from them. Granted, they did lose Kevin Durant to the Warriors, leaving Westbrook to practically play by himself.
Like Westbrook’s situation, the Rockets are Harden’s team. Dwight Howard no longer creates a threatening presence to The Beard’s leadership, and Harden is commanding the team in full force, guiding them to a great season. The Rockets have finally made that leap in quality from the lower-tier teams to being in the same grouping with teams like the Warriors, Spurs, and Cavaliers. It is no longer outlandish to suggest that we may see Space City bring home that trophy in June, and Harden is to thank for that.
Harden has never won the MVP before, and a player of his caliber deserves at least one in his career. If he were to win, he would become the first Rocket to win MVP since Hakeem Olajuwon did in 1994. And even more importantly, Harden has a real chance to lead the Houston to its first NBA championship in 22 years.
At the end of the day, James’s MVP case is not all about stats. It’s about how he has led the Rockets. Harden has played 36.5 minutes per game, the highest total in the NBA, and he has carried the team on his shoulders. Houston plays best when he’s on the court calling the shots, and the team is one of the most dangerous in the league.
There are certainly other candidates for the MVP award, but Harden has a leg up on each of them. Let’s look at a few.
Next: Harden vs. Durant
Jul 30, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Team USA guard Kevin Durant (right) dribbles the ball against guard James Harden (left) during a team practice session at Mendenhall Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Before the recent injury, Kevin Durant was one of James Harden’s biggest competitors for the esteemed MVP award.
After looking at statistics, though, it’s clear that James Harden is more deserving. Kevin Durant is significantly behind The Beard in both points and assists for this season. They also are neck and neck when it comes to rebounding statistics. Considering the fact that Durant has five inches on Harden, it is applaudable that Harden is still within 1 rebound of his average.
Although Durant’s team may have a better record, this is merely because he is surrounded by some of the world’s greatest players. Sure, Harden may have Lou Williams and Eric Gordon with him on the Rockets, but this is nothing compared to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson that Durant and the Golden State Warriors have.
Even though the Warriors are a stronger team, the Rockets are only 7 games away from them in the standings. Also, the season series between the two is tied at one game apiece, so it’s not ridiculous to say they’re on the same level.
At the end of the day, it looks like James Harden has done a better job of leading his team than Kevin Durant despite the difference in season records. Plus, the recent injury to Durant’s knee will keep him out of the running in most voters’ minds.
Next: Harden vs. Lebron
Jan 15, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) after scoring a basket during the first quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Like every year, LeBron James is a serious contender for MVP. Voter fatigue, games missed, and the lack of a compelling storyline will keep him from out dueling Harden, though.
When talking about statistics, James Harden has the clear advantage over LeBron James in points and assists. They are also average exactly the same rebounds per game even though LeBron is the better athletic specimen.
Although the Cleveland Cavaliers have one of the league’s best rosters, the Rockets still have a better season record. This is partially due to Bron’s habit of taking games off for rest. It’s understandable given his age and load, but the MVP should be a player who gives to his team every single night.
This demonstrates exactly why Harden is more than just a scorer and flashy player; he is one of the league’s greatest leaders as well. For an MVP, that’s a necessary trait to have. Harden’s newfound leadership, along with all the other reasons, will help him best LeBron in the MVP voting.
Next: Harden vs. Westbrook
Jan 29, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after a play against the Houston Rockets during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Russell Westbrook is no doubt Harden’s biggest competitor for 2016-17 MVP. This is due to the fact that their statistics are similar and the roles they play are almost indistinguishable.
While Russell Westbrook does have a slight edge over James Harden in points and rebounds per game and averages a triple-double, The Beard is a better passer who averages more assists. Also, Harden’s shooting percentage–both 3 point and overall–is a tad higher.
However, when it comes to triple-doubles for this season, Russell Westbrook is unstoppable. With the most trip-dubs in the league, Westbrook has 30. That’s twice as many as James Harden!
Understandably, this has been one of the biggest arguments for those who speculate that Westbrook will be MVP. However, it appears that statistics are one of the only things that Russ has going for him. Fortunately, Harden has many.
Harden’s squad has a record of 43-19 while the Oklahoma City Thunder are 35-26 for this season. Both teams have pretty similar rosters, which shows that Harden does an overall better job of carrying his team than Westbrook. It’s worth noting that nearly every pundit predicted the Thunder fare better than the Rockets before the season started.
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So far, the teams have gone head-to-head 3 times this season. Although the Thunder won the first meeting in a nailbiter, the Rockets have managed to clinch the last two.
Whether this may contribute to the decision or not, it seems like it is also important to point out the fact that Harden is significantly less injury prone than Westbrook. Because of this, Harden is more reliable and is usually able to play more regular season and playoff games than Russ. Harden has missed but one game in the last three years, where Westbrook has missed 17.
Although either Russ or Harden could be the MVP for their tremendous accomplishments this season, only one award will be given out. That being said, James Harden is overall more qualified and deserving of the title “Most Valuable Player.” Stats alone prove his dominance over every candidate but Westbrook, and his team’s success gives him an edge there. His story is compelling, his numbers are incredible, and he could realistically win a Finals MVP as well.
The MVP race this season has been one of the best in recent memory, with players putting up crazy performances on a nightly basis. James Harden should win it, but it’s exciting to watch nonetheless.
Team records are accurate as of March 5th, 2017. Stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com.