Harden's MVP Case
*Photo via USA Today
Why Harden has the Edge in the MVP Race
In the most contested MVP race we have seen in recent memory, James Harden has one of the strongest cases to win the award, and he made another statement last night.
Harden dropped 50 points in the Houston Rockets’ win over the Denver Nuggets, along with 10 rebounds and four assists. It was the first 50-point game of his career and it brought his scoring average on the season to 27.1 points per game.
While Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook have all had MVP moments of their own, there are several reasons why I believe Harden has the edge over each of them.
Harden vs. Curry:
For a while, I thought Stephen Curry would win the MVP without question because of the way he leads that ultra-efficient Golden State Warriors offense. But Wednesday night, in their dominant win over the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded Atlanta Hawks, I realized the Warriors are so much more than just Curry’s team.
With Klay Thompson sitting out due to injury, Golden State was led by the scoring of Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, and Draymond Green. Curry had 12 assists and he is definitely the facilitator of that offense, but the Warriors are loaded with talent and their defense is what sets the tone. If you took Curry out of the mix, they certainly wouldn’t be the top seed, but they would still be right in the thick of the playoff race.
That’s my main factor when I think about who the MVP should be; what would their team be without them? When compared with Curry, I think Harden is more of an asset to the Rockets. In a numbers driven league, Harden scores more, rebounds more, and averages nearly the same amount of assists as Curry. Without Harden and everything he does for that team, the Rockets would be fighting for a playoff spot.
Harden vs. Davis:
Davis is undoubtedly having a breakout season, averaging a double-double and the highest player efficiency rating in the league. However, he has only played in 55 games and his New Orleans Pelicans are battling with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. With a mediocre supporting cast, the Pelicans probably wouldn’t even be in that position without Davis. But they still might miss the playoffs anyways.
Harden has played in 67 games this season and has his Rockets sitting comfortably at third place in the West. While his supporting cast isn’t great either, especially with Dwight Howard being hurt most of the season, he has kept the Rockets in position to be a serious contender. Without Harden, I think the Rockets would be closer to where the Pelicans are. Therefore, I give Harden the edge over Davis because of his durability and consistency.
Harden vs. James:
This one is quite simple to me, really. Harden and James have very similar numbers on the season, and their teams would likely be on the lower end of the playoff races without them. The one significant difference in their games is free throw shooting. Both players make a living by driving hard to the rim and getting to the line, but Harden is converting 86 percent of his free throws to James’ 72 percent. Not to mention Harden has attempted 200 more free throws than James this year.
In his 50 point performance last night, Harden was 22-25 at the charity stripe. Some people look at the amount of times he gets to the line as a negative, saying that officials are giving him the benefit of the doubt too many times. To me, as long as he knocks them down at that high of a percentage, I can’t see it as anything but a positive.
Besides, James has already established himself as the best player in the league. It wouldn’t be any fun to just keep giving him the MVP year after year. Harden gets the edge here because James is old news. The only way James will ever win another MVP award is if his numbers are just absurdly better than everyone else’s.
Harden vs. Westbrook:
One player whose flashy numbers might just prove to be Harden’s biggest threat is his former teammate, Russell Westbrook. Since the All-Star break, Westbrook is nearly averaging a triple-double, and he has scored more than 30 points in nine of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 15 games.
Westbrook’s offensive explosion has allowed him to barely pass Harden for the league scoring lead with 27.6 points per game. However, the raining MVP, Kevin Durant, hasn’t played a game for the Thunder since February 19. In the month of March, Westbrook is averaging his highest number of attempted field goals and turnovers all season. It is clear that with Durant on the bench, Westbrook is forced to try to make more plays. While the Thunder would certainly be in trouble without Westbrook, one could argue that he wouldn’t even be in this discussion if Durant was still in the lineup.
Moreover, he has played just 53 games this season after missing some time due to injury. While he has come on stronger than ever late in the season, it would be hard to justify giving him the MVP over the stability of Harden. All in all, I think that James Harden means the most to his team this season, and he has all season long, which is what the league MVP award is all about.