Only one player this century has been MVP of the league while winning less than 50 games. Will Rockets’ James Harden be the second?
James Harden is having one of the best individual seasons in NBA history. He is leading the league in scoring by a mile at 36.6 points per game while still dishing out nearly eight assists and grabbing seven boards per game. He has almost single-handedly carried the injury-riddled Rockets out of the basement of the Western Conference to the sixth seed with a 33-24 record at the All-Star break.
Because of all this, Harden is the odds-on favorite to take home his second MVP award. But with Giannis Antetokounmpo having an incredible year and Paul George coming on strong, it is not going to be enough for Harden to match his production. The Rockets are also going to have to win.
Disregarding the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season in which LeBron James took home the MVP, there has only been one season since 2000 in which the team with the MVP won less than 54 games: Russell Westbrook in 2016-17.
Even though Westbrook’s Thunder only posted a 47-35 mark that year and were the sixth seed going into the playoffs, Brodie had an unbelievable individual season. He led the league in scoring at 31.6 points per game while becoming the first player to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62. His incredible numbers were enough to push him past the lack of wins.
But for all of recent memory, MVP-winners have won over 50 games, and more often than not, over 60 games. Since 2000, every MVP besides Westbrook has also put his team in the first or second seed in the conference.
With 25 games left, the Rockets are in the sixth spot in the West with a 33-24 (.579) record. In order to reach the arbitrary 50-win prerequisite, the Rockets will need to rattle off a 17-8 mark, an ambitious but very possible goal. And to reach the 2005-06 Steve Nash threshold of 54 victories, Houston will have to win 21 of its next 25.
For voters who place more emphasis on team wins than individual stats, it will be very easy to vote for Giannis whose Bucks will likely eclipse 60 wins, or Paul George whose Thunder are making a run at the second seed in the West.
That’s why it’s imperative that the Rockets close out the season strong and try to get to 50 wins, not only for their own success and playoff hopes but for The Beard’s MVP chances as well. But even if Houston simply continues its win rate and finishes with 47 or 48 wins, hopefully, Harden can pull a Westbrook and bring home the hardware anyway.