James Harden vs. LeBron James: Legacy and the MVP

Mar 12, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) shoots the ball over Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the fourth quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 12, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) shoots the ball over Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the fourth quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

LeBron James is unarguably one of the most gifted players in the history of basketball. However, when it comes to the 2017 awards, James Harden is the real MVP.

With less than a month remaining in the regular season, it’s almost time to award this year’s MVP winner. Next to 2008 that saw Kobe Bryant take home his only MVP honor, this has potentially been the most competitive race in league history.

Whether your pick is Russell Westbrook for his historic pursuit to average a triple-double or Isaiah Thomas and his quest to help the Boston Celtics return to their glory days or someone else, there’s not really a wrong answer this year. Any of this season’s top candidates are more than worthy of the honor.

Unfortunately, when it’s all said and done, there’s only room for one name on that elusive hardwood honor. Of all the options, James Harden has been most deserving of the honor, but there is one player whose legacy may stand in the way of Harden’s first MVP award.

Since entering the league in 2003, LeBron James has established himself as one of the greatest players this league has ever seen. As a three-time NBA champion and already a four-time MVP, it’s hard to imagine an MVP race that does not include his name.

LeBron has been awarded MVP four times (and was robbed in 2011 when Derrick Rose took it), and it’s easy to understand why.

King James has the seventh-most win shares in NBA history with 203.38. He also posts a Player Efficiency Rating of 27.61, the second-highest in league history.

Without a doubt, LeBron’s greatness should not go unrecognized nor unappreciated. But to support his MVP candidacy this season because of his legacy would be foolish.

One may ask why and the answer is simple. The MVP award isn’t based off a player’s career work, but their success in the current season. And when this year’s Born is compared to James Harden, the numbers are clearly in the Beard’s favor.

Who is King James this year?

When looking at the 2017 version of the same stats that demonstrated LeBron’s overall greatness, they don’t hold the same value in this season’s MVP race. In fact, neither LeBron’s PER of 26.8 or 10.8 win shares even crack the top five.

As for Harden, he possesses the third-highest PER of the season at 27.9, along with the highest number of win shares with 13.7. If that alone does not prove Harden’s MVP case over LeBron, don’t worry–there’s more evidence.

Both Harden and LeBron are currently posting career highs in almost every statistical category. While they’re both outdoing themselves this season, Harden posts better counting stats than Bron all across the board. The Beard’s putting more points, assists, and steals than King James, and only trails him by 0.2 on the boards. He’s not just stat-stuffing, though; his true shooting percentage is ever so slightly better as well.

Throughout his 14-year career, LeBron has established himself as one of the best playmakers of all time. He’s able to do it all. However, his playmaking this season isn’t on the same level as Harden’s. Harden is producing over 56 points per game for his team, the highest in league history. LeBron definitely helps his team, but not like Harden does.

However, regardless of Harden’s advantage in individual comparisons, most MVP awards come down to the overall success of the winner’s team.

With the Houston Rockets on the verge of ending the season with one of their best records in franchise history, the overall success of the team is once more in Harden’s favor.

For a team made up of three All-Stars and a bench that could start for most NBA teams, the Cleveland Cavaliers have done a lousy job of defending their title as NBA champions. In some aspects, the Cavaliers have arguably underachieved this season.

Sure, Cleveland has had their share of injuries this year, and to some degree that has affected their overall record. However, with LeBron James suiting up on a nightly basis, the Cavaliers should possess a better record than 47-24 in the Eastern conference.

With the help of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the Cavaliers should still be a championship contender even without LeBron.

Undoubtedly, the same cannot be said about the Houston Rockets.

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With no clear indication of who the Rockets’ second and third best players are, James Harden has put the team on his back all year. He has not only led Houston to the third-best record in the league (50-22), but also has them on pace to tie their franchise-best 57 wins in a season.

That’s saying a lot, considering the many predictions that said Houston would compete for a lottery pick instead of a championship.

At the end of the day, both James Harden and LeBron James have had a remarkable 2016-17 campaign. They’ve both put up eye-popping numbers, had MVP moments, and have led their respective franchises.

However, when it’s all said and done, James Harden is more deserving of this season’s MVP award than LeBron James. King James will always be King James, but somebody else is on the throne this season.

Next: 3-on-3 Discussion: Answering Some Hypothetical Questions

Who do you think deserves MVP? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter at @SpaceCity_Scoop! Stay tuned to Space City Scoop for more analysis, news, and opinions on the Houston Rockets.

Stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Standings are accurate as of March 24th, 2017.