Why the Houston Rockets’ James Harden is still the real MVP

Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /
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Houston Rockets
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

James Harden embodies the word ‘valuable’ for the Houston Rockets

Basketball is about getting buckets, and there is not a soul on Earth that does it better than James Harden. He currently leads the league in scoring with 2,096 points, and, on top of that, his 450 assists have led to 1,072 points. Harden’s scoring and passing have created 3,168 points for the Rockets.

LeBron and Giannis, using the same method, have only produced 3,035 and 2,526 points, respectively, for their teams. On a per-game basis, Harden produces 51.9 points per game, James 50.6, and Giannis 44.3. Not only has Harden bested the two frontrunners in point creation but he leads the NBA in win shares at 11.5, which, outside of team record, is the next best historical predictor of the MVP.

James also has a value over a replacement player of 6.3. In terms of traditional and advanced metrics, Harden is not just keeping pace with the presumptive MVP favorites but surpassing them. LeBron and Giannis both have good cases for the MVP, but what is separating them from Harden are their superior supporting casts.

Giannis’s best case for the MVP is built on his absurdly good defense and rate statistics. The Bucks have been so dominant that Giannis has played almost 500 fewer minutes than Harden this season and averages nearly six fewer minutes of court time per game.

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So while Harden has racked up more raw win shares and value over a replacement player than Giannis, he trails him in win shares per 48 minutes (.282 to .245). Is Giannis better than Harden? Probably yes, but the award is not the “Most Best Player,” it’s the Most Valuable Player.

Harden needing to play those extra six minutes per game shows how valuable he is to the Rockets. If his team’s record bolsters Giannis’ MVP case, then it should also be diminished by the Bucks not needing him on the court nearly as much to win.

Also, Giannis is nowhere near the offensive player that Harden is, and it is his league-leading advanced defensive metrics that push him up the leaderboards. Defensive win shares are known to be bolstered significantly by overall team defense, and the Bucks have an all-time great defensive supporting cast, which likely features multiple all-defensive selections not named Giannis.

So while the Greek Freak makes a very strong Bucks team the best in the league, Harden has been tasked with pulling a lesser supporting cast in a more difficult conference into the championship conversation.

Next: The Media's love of LeBron