While many see Russell Westbrook’s presence as something that can hurt James Harden’s MVP chances, the Houston Rockets’ system says otherwise.
Over the past three seasons, Houston Rockets guard James Harden has won MVP once and finished second in voting twice. There’s a strong case to be made for him winning it last year as well. Harden’s 36.1 points per game were eight points higher than anyone else in the league as he led Houston to within one game of the NBA Finals. So why isn’t he being seen by many as a favorite to win NBA MVP next season?
Many people think the addition of Russell Westbrook hurts Harden’s chances, but there’s an argument to be made that it helps them. Westbrook is elite at creating 3-point shots for others, so Harden should see even more threes this season than he has in the past. Considering The Beard already led the league last year with 13.2 attempts from downtown per game, this could potentially up his scoring average even more.
Westbrook has always been a very good cutter off the ball, and there’s no reason this should stop now as a member of the Rockets. Chris Paul was more of a “pull the ball out and set up a play” type of point guard, so Harden rarely connected with him on assists. With Russ’s high activity off the ball, Harden will have an opportunity to not only find Clint Capela for easy buckets but Russell Westbrook as well.
Another narrative floating around is that because Harden and Westbrook had the two highest usage percentages last season, James will not get the touches he’s used to. While he will have the ball in his hands less often, Harden has a better chance of being even more efficient than ever with another attention-drawing superstar like Westbrook on the court.
On top of that, Harden will likely have a good chunk of minutes as the lone superstar on the team, as Head Coach Mike D’Antoni has already stated he’ll be staggering the duo’s minutes often.
One of the main factors in MVP voting every year is team success. Given the current roster, it is very reasonable to expect the Rockets to get the first seed in the Western Conference. In the last two seasons, they’ve finished with 65 and 53 wins, respectively. Last year was close to a worst-case scenario for Houston with all their injury troubles and they still pulled off 53 wins.
The lack of depth Houston suffered from has been addressed and they will be 10-12 deep on day one. It also helps that the Golden State Warriors are no longer what they used to be and the Lakers and Clippers will be inclined to use load management of their stars more than Mike D’Antoni during the season.
In the end, Harden checks all boxes. He should repeat as the scoring champion on what should be better efficiency while still getting around eight assists per night. The team will likely be a top-three seed in The West and there’s a high chance he will be the best player on the best team going into the playoffs.
Despite what many say, James Harden is as primed as he’s ever been to win another MVP award this season.