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Houston Rockets: Why James Harden should have more MVPs

By Anthony Duckett
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – MAY 08: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets stands on the court during their game against the Golden State Warriors in Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 08, 2019 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – MAY 08: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets stands on the court during their game against the Golden State Warriors in Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 08, 2019 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

James Harden of the Houston Rockets has been robbed of several MVP awards in recent years. It is very interesting that he is always a top 2 finalist but has only taken home one award. Let’s recap the voting of each of the past 5 MVP awards.

The MVP award voting has been very inconsistent, to say the least.  Every year when it comes to this award, there is never any clarity or clear cut understanding of the voting criteria. Is it the best player on the best team? Or is it truly the player most valuable to his team, which is after all the title of the award.

In the 2014-2015 NBA season, Stephen Curry won the MVP. This was a case of best player on the best team, as Curry averaged 23.7 points per game (6th in the NBA) and 7.7 assists (6th in the NBA), as compared to Harden’s 27 points per game (2nd in the NBA), 5.7 rebounds per game and 7 assists per game (8th in the NBA). Harden finished first in win shares, with 16.4, as compared to Curry finishing third with 15.7.

Sure the Warriors had the best record in the league (67-15), but they likely would have still been a playoff team without him because they were that good. They had 2 All-Star and All-NBA players from that year’s team (Curry and Thompson) as compared to just Harden on the Rockets. In addition, Harden’s Rockets were 56-26 and finished second in the Western Conference. Harden carried the Rockets to the second best spot in the West and had better all-around numbers than Curry, however, Harden finished second in MVP voting that particular season.

Next: Harden vs. Curry again

OAKLAND, CA – APRIL 16: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors handles the ball during the game against James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs April 16, 2016 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA – APRIL 16: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors handles the ball during the game against James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs April 16, 2016 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

Harden vs. Curry again

The following season, the 2015-2016 season, Curry also won the award on the strength of best player on the best team again. Curry averaged 30 points per game (1st in the NBA), 5.4 rebounds per game and 6.7 assists per game (10th in the NBA). This was another year where the Warriors had multiple All-Stars and All-NBA players, including Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in addition to Curry. The Warriors also finished with the top seed in the West.

If the MVP award were given based on the most valuable player to his team, this certainly could have gone to Harden during that particular season’s. The Rockets went 41-41 and finished with the No. 8 seed in the West despite Harden’s contributions of 29 points per game (2nd in the NBA), 6 rebounds per game and 7.5 assists per game (6th in the NBA). Harden was also the only Rockets player to make the All-Star team this season, but wasn’t named to an All-NBA team and wasn’t even an MVP finalist.

Next: Harden vs. Russ

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – APRIL 21: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives around James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets for two points during the second half of Game Three in the 2017 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Quarterfinals on April 21, 2017 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Oklahoma City defeated Houston 115-113 NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – APRIL 21: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives around James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets for two points during the second half of Game Three in the 2017 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Quarterfinals on April 21, 2017 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Oklahoma City defeated Houston 115-113 NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)

Harden vs. Westbrook

In the 2016-2017 NBA season, Russell Westbrook won the award, after being the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1962 to average a triple-double, posting averages of 31.6 points per game (1st in the league), 10.7 rebounds per game and 10.4 assists per game (3rd in the NBA). Westbrook led the Thunder to a 47-35 record and the No. 6 seed in the West.

That season, Harden finished second in MVP voting with averages of 29.1 points per game (2nd behind only Westbrook), 11.2 assists per game (1st in the league) and 8.1 rebounds per game, as the Rockets went 55-27 and finished 3rd in the West, defeating the Thunder in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Westbrook surely won that award based on the milestone of being the first to average a triple-double in over 50 years, which is no easy feat.

However, Westbrook would later accomplish the exact same feat each of the next 2 seasons, posting averages of 25/10/10 in the 2017-2018 season and this past season averaging 22.9 points/11.1 rebounds and 10.7 assists per game. This is certainly no small feat and seems something only Westbrook can do in the modern era of the NBA. One has to question, though, the importance of Westbrook’s triple-double averages in the eyes of the MVP voters. This is simply because each of the following seasons in which he accomplished the exact same feat, he was not even an MVP finalist.

During the 2017-2018 season, Westbrook led the Thunder to a better record (48-34) and a better finish in the West (4th) which were both better than his actual MVP season. This past season the Thunder finished 49-33 (a better record than Westbrook’s MVP season) and the No. 6 seed in the West (same as Westbrook’s MVP season). So it begs to question just how important his triple-double averages were to the MVP voters.

Next: Harden finally wins it

HOUSTON, TX – OCTOBER 17: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets is presented the Maurice Podoloff Trophy for MVP by Tilman Fertitta during a game on October 17, 2018 at Toyota Center, in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX – OCTOBER 17: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets is presented the Maurice Podoloff Trophy for MVP by Tilman Fertitta during a game on October 17, 2018 at Toyota Center, in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

Harden finally wins it

The year Harden actually did take home the trophy, the Rockets finished 65-27, which was the best record in the NBA and Harden finished with averages of 30.4 points per game (1st in the league) and 8.8 assists per game (3rd in the league), in addition to being the only Houston Rockets player to make either the All-Star or All-NBA team. This was an example of Harden being both the best player on the best team AND the most valuable player to his team.

This season

The most questionable MVP voting was this past season, in my opinion. The best team, by record, was the Milwaukee Bucks, who finished with a record of 60-22. The Houston Rockets finished 53-29, which is only a difference 7 games, despite playing in the much tougher Western Conference. The eventual winner, Giannis Antetokounmpo, averaged 27.7 points per game (No. 3 in the league) compared to Harden’s 36.1 (No. 1 in the league). Giannis also averaged 12.5 rebounds per game (6th in the league), 1.5 blocks per game (No. 11 in the league) and 5.9 assists per game.

Meanwhile, Harden averaged 7.5 assists per game (No. 7 in the league) and 6.6 rebounds per game, and averaged 2 steals per game (No. 2 in the league) and was second in total deflections and 3rd in deflections per game.  I mention the advanced defensive statistics only because Harden’s perceived lack of effort on the defensive end may have caused him in the past to miss out on more hardware.

But if this has been a factor for voters’, it makes even less sense that Harden didn’t take home the award this year! In addition, the Bucks had 2 All-Stars between Giannis and Khris Middleton, while Harden was again the only Rockets player to make the All-Star team.

Giannis winning the award fits the best player on the best team argument, but not the most valuable player to his team, as that would clearly be Harden, considering the Rockets started 11-14 with a fully healthy roster and closed the season out with the best record post-All-Star break going 21-5. This was despite the injuries to Clint Capela, Chris Paul and Eric Gordon and in spite of Chris Paul having arguably the worst season of his career.

Next: More on this year

HOUSTON, TX – MAY 6: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets handles the ball against the Golden State Warriors during Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on May 6, 2019 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX – MAY 6: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets handles the ball against the Golden State Warriors during Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on May 6, 2019 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

The argument

The best argument behind why Harden got beat out on the MVP award this season could simply be voters fatigue, as Harden has been an MVP finalist 4 times in his career, which shows the caliber of player Harden is. This is the first year Giannis has been named an MVP finalist.

The case to be made for Antetokounmpo has very little to do with anything on the court, which is exactly the opposite for Harden, who became only the third player in NBA history to average at least 36 points per game. In addition, Harden’s Houston Rockets were 14th in the West at the start of the season, however, Harden’s brilliance single-handedly lifted the Rockets to a 4th place finish in the much tougher Western Conference.

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Before you label me a homer, which I’m sure you have already, please explain to me what the criteria is when voting for the MVP award and especially when voting for the MVP this season. From my vantage point, Harden should have more hardware and definitely should have taken home the award this season!

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