As expected, Houston Rockets coach, Mike D’Antoni, says that James Harden should win the MVP Award. But the coach also thinks Harden should be in the conversation for Most Improved Player.
Mike D’Antoni, the head coach of the Houston Rockets, isn’t afraid to express his opinions, even if some may raise a few eyebrows.
When talking to the media, D’Antoni predictably said that Harden should take home his second MVP Award this year. The winner of the MVP Award will likely be either Harden or Giannis Antetokounmpo, and The Beard has a clear stats advantage.
D’Antoni also jokingly said that Harden should win the Most Improved Player Award.
“I joked to somebody, ‘I don’t know if he’ll get MVP, he should in my opinion, he definitely should get Most Improved Player, because he’s improved his game.’ You add five points, you add the step back, you add a floater, his defense has gotten really good. To me, he should have most improved player.”
By looking at Harden’s numbers and team record, its easy to make a case for him to win MVP. But MIP? Well, The Beard did take his game to the next level.
As D’Antoni mentioned, Harden added 5.7 points to his scoring average this season, even though he easily won the scoring title last year. Harden’s step back three has also become so proficient that the Milwaukee Bucks came up with an interesting way to defend it. They didn’t just force Harden right like most teams, they played almost behind him, forcing him to drive into Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the team’s shot blockers.
The strategy worked well enough for Milwaukee that they swept the season series over Houston and held the Rockets under 40 percent shooting from the floor in both matchups. In a league that is quick to copy what works, the Utah Jazz used Milwaukee’s strategy in the first round of the playoffs against Houston, forcing Harden into the lane where Rudy Gobert, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, protected the rim. Even though Harden had some rough shooting nights, the Rockets were still able to send Utah home in just five games.
For this type of coverage, Harden’s recently developed floater comes in handy whenever opponents try to limit layups with shot blocking centers, as Utah did. Harden’s defense is now far from meme worthy, as he finished second in the league in steals, averaging 2.0 per game this season, a career high.
Harden definitely took another step forward in his 10th NBA season, which is very difficult to do. However, you shouldn’t hold your breath on The Beard winning Most Improved Player.