Houston Rockets: ESPN disrespects James Harden in MVP prediction poll

Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

ESPN’s experts recently predicted that eight players are more likely to win next season’s MVP Award over Houston Rockets superstar James Harden.

At this point, Houston Rockets fans have almost become accustomed to the media’s bias against the team and its star players. However, ESPN just took their level of disrespect to a new level.

In a recent panel, ESPN’s “experts” were asked to vote for the player most likely to receive the MVP Award for the 2019-20 season. Unsurprisingly, Giannis Antetokounmpo received the most first place votes (30.3 percent), as winning last year’s MVP Award at the beginning of his prime years makes The Greek Freak an easy choice.

However, Stephen Curry received the second most first placed votes. This was quite surprising to me. Sure, Kevin Durant left town and Klay Thompson will miss the vast majority of the season, so Curry will have to put up huge numbers for the Warriors to have success. However, Golden State’s roster just isn’t as talented as Houston, either of the teams in LA, Denver and maybe even Utah.

If the Warriors finish as a fifth seed or below, which seems likely, how can Curry have such high odds to take home the MVP Award with average team success?

This is especially important considering the main argument for Giannis winning the MVP over Harden is the fact that Milwaukee led the league in wins, while Houston tied with Portland for the third best record in the west. If team success is such a large determinant of the MVP recipient, how is Curry so high on this list and why is he above James Harden?

Speaking of The Beard, this is the part of the poll that ESPN got so terribly wrong. ESPN’s panel determined that Harden had only the ninth best odds to win the MVP Award next season. Now, keep this in mind: Harden won the 2018 MVP Award and has finished top two in MVP voting in four of the last five seasons. In fact, Harden has finished top five in MVP voting in five of his seven seasons as a Rocket.

After winning MVP in 2018, Harden increased his scoring average by 5.7 points per game, which is nearly unprecedented for a player who was the league’s best player in the previous season. The Beard is coming off one of the best individual offensive seasons of all time and he led the Rockets to a more than respectable 53 wins. However, according to ESPN’s panel, there are apparently eight players in the league that have better MVP odds than Harden next season. Are you kidding me?

Considering Harden has shown no signs of slowing down, the only logical explanation I can come up with is that ESPN’s experts assume Russell Westbrook‘s presence will diminish Harden’s numbers and thus his chances at winning MVP.

That’s a fair argument, but it doesn’t hold up for two reasons. First, after the Rockets added Chris Paul, who was still an elite player in 2017, Harden’s assists numbers dipped but his scoring average went up. Not to mention, Houston led the NBA in wins with 65 and Harden secured his first MVP Award with an All-Star caliber talent as a back court mate.

Second, LeBron James was voted as the third most likely candidate to win MVP among ESPN’s experts. Like the Rockets, the Lakers added a second superstar over the summer in Anthony Davis, who also finished ahead of Harden in ESPN’s panel and was given the fifth best chance at MVP. Kawhi Leonard, who will be playing with a superstar in Paul George after not having one in Toronto last season (with all due respect to Kyle Lowry), finished seventh in ESPN’s poll.

Sure, Harden’s usage rate and numbers may go down a bit next season with the addition of Westbrook, but wouldn’t the same hold true for LeBron, AD and Kawhi?

Furthermore, ESPN’s real plus-minus statistic, which is unbiased by the way, predicted Houston would lead the NBA in wins next season. If the best player on the best team typically has very favorable odds to take home the MVP Award, how can Harden be so low in ESPN’s poll?

It’s plainly clear the media simply doesn’t like James Harden. Some may blame voter fatigue, but Stephen Curry and LeBron James, who together won four of the 10 MVP Awards in the last decade, finished second and third in ESPN’s poll. So those placing the blame on voter fatigue are likely mistaken.

Maybe the experts just don’t like Mike D’Antoni‘s unconventional offense. They don’t like how many 3s the Rockets take or their aversion to long mid-range jump shots. Maybe they don’t like James Harden’s style of play. His reliance on step-back 3s or drawing fouls may rub some the wrong way.

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No matter what the reason is, there is no logical argument for why Harden barely secured a spot on this list. The NBA world in general doesn’t appreciate Harden’s greatness and everything he brings to the game of basketball, and that’s just sad.