3 reasons why James Harden is the MVP this season
By Tevin Williams
James Harden of the Houston Rockets has been the MVP so far in the 2017-18 season. Here are three reasons why.
James Harden hasn’t had much luck when it comes to winning an MVP Award. The star has finished second place in MVP voting on two separate occasions.
Stephen Curry edged out Harden in the 2014-15 season with averages of 23.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG and 7.7 APG. Harden’s numbers were equally impressive with averages of 27.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG and 7.0 APG. The Beard also finished ahead of Curry in win shares 16.4 to 15.7. Harden led the Rockets to 56 wins that season, but the Warriors led the NBA with 67 wins. The MVP is often awarded to the best player on one of the top teams, so Curry got the nod despite having an inferior stat line.
The 2016-17 MVP race was a different story. We all know that Russell Westbrook‘s historic triple-double average was absolutely phenomenal, but that doesn’t mean he deserved the MVP Award. Westbrook averaged 31.6 PPG, 10.7 RPG, and 10.4 APG last season, compared to 29.1 PPG, 8.1 RPG and 11.2 APG from James Harden. Sure, Westbrook had a slightly better stat line, but his sixth seed Thunder team won just 47 games. They were clearly a tier below the third place Rockets who won 55 games.
Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant have won the last 10 MVP Awards, and each player’s team finished as a top two seed in their conference, except for Westbrook’s Thunder. The criteria for what qualified an MVP last season was inconsistent from previous years, and that’s why Rockets fans still can’t believe that Harden didn’t win last year.
But Harden is in the lead to win the MVP Award this year, and Russell Westbrook isn’t anywhere in sight. Here are three reasons why James Harden has been the MVP so far this season.
Next: No. 3
3. Harden is no longer a defensive liability
No player is perfect, and if there is a chink in Harden’s seemingly impenetrable armor, it’s his defense. The Beard has never been known for his defensive abilities. In fact, his defense is often the victim of internet memes and jokes.
But Harden has improved his effort on defense. The nine-year pro is averaging 1.7 steals per game and opposing offenses don’t single him out as often anymore. The Rockets currently have a 104.6 defensive rating when Harden is on the floor, which would rank 16th in the NBA.
Harden wont be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and he is unlikely to ever lead the league in steals. However, he isn’t a defensive liability anymore, and that shines a light on his work ethic and increased effort. Defense is the only weak part of James Harden’s game, but it is no longer a major hinderance for The Beard.
Next: No. 2
2. Harden’s numbers are ridiculous
James Harden’s numbers are absolutely ridiculous this season. Harden is currently leading the NBA is PPG (31.6), APG (9.9), 3PM (4.5), FTM (8.2) and usage percentage (36.1), to go along with 4.8 RPG and 1.7 SPG. Harden is also shooting 45.0 percent from the field, a career-high 40.4 percent from the 3-point line and 86.4 percent from the free-throw line.
Here’s an even more impressive stat. This season, 76 of Harden’s 168 assists have come on 3-point field goals, which means that he has assisted on 412 points. When combining Harden’s 538 total points and his 412 total assisted points, we find out that he has generated 950 points in 17 games. James Harden is accounting for 55.9 points a game this season (when rounded to the nearest tenth), the same as last season when he accounted for more points than any player in NBA history. He’s doing this while averaging less turnovers and a higher field goal, 3-point and free-throw percentage than last year.
Harden put up insane numbers last year, and he’s doing it again this year. Of course, there are other players in the league like LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and DeMarcus Cousins who are putting up big stats, but their teams are barely over .500. Advantage James Harden.
Next: No. 1
1. His numbers translate to wins
It’s great that James Harden is averaging eye-popping numbers, but it doesn’t matter unless it helps the Rockets win games. Well, Houston’s record is 13-4, which is the best record in the Western Conference and the second best in the league. And James Harden’s stellar play has directly translated to wins.
First of all, it’s amazing that the Rockets have gotten off to such a hot start without Chris Paul in all but three games. Putting Eric Gordon in the starting lineup makes Houston’s bench a lot weaker. Also, Harden is the only true point guard on the team without Paul, so he had to carry a lot of weight. And that he did.
Harden is currently leading the NBA in offensive win shares (3.2), win shares (4.0), win shares per 48 minutes (.312), box plus/minus (10.6), and value over replacement player (2.0). Harden is dominating the league in both traditional and advanced statistics, and his team sits at the top of the loaded Western Conference. James Harden is the current frontrunner for the 2018 MVP and it isn’t even close.
Next: Can the Houston Rockets have a top-5 defense?
*All stats came from basketball-reference.com and NBA.com.