• Dalton Pence

James Harden Should Be in the MVP Race


Photo: NBA.com

Just months ago, James Harden was awarded with the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award, one that he had continually fell short of earning in years past. To top it all off, the Rockets’ superstar is having an even more impressive 2018-19 campaign, at least in regard to statistics.

Houston has had a rough start to the season, struggling out to a 16-15 start. Moving pieces, effort, defensive woes, and underperforming have dominated the first 31 games for the reigning Western Conference regular season champions. With that being said, Harden still deserves to be in the MVP race---once again.

Current MVP odds according to oddsshark.com:

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (+150)

2. Anthony Davis (+450)

3. Kawhi Leonard (+600)

4. Stephen Curry (+600)

5. LeBron James (+750)

6. James Harden (+1000)

Note: This is not a knock on the Greek Freak or the Brow, but a simple explanation why Harden should be more involved in the conversation. It is understood that the award in itself is often narrative based. There has been no consistency in determining a sort-of rubric or guideline that would better constitute a rightful recipient.

Harden is top-5 in multiple statistical categories

As great as he was last season, he seems to continue to improve in different ways. Harden’s league-best 31.8 PPG is the highest average of his career to date; the next highest scorer is Kevin Durant with 28.8. He also leads the NBA in three-pointers made with 118. His 8.4 assists and 2.14 steals per game rank 5th and 2nd in the league, respectively.

As stated earlier, the award is narrative based. Although Harden’s specialty is mastering the art of exploiting the loopholes of NBA officiating. His stepback and techniques for drawing fouls make him a tough opponent to guard, but they don’t help his MVP case. Despite other coaches and players praising his abilities, Harden has quickly become a villain of the media due to his style of play. Regardless, statistics alone should meet the requirements for the award’s consideration.

He’s having a better season than his MVP campaign

2017-18 stats: 30.4 PPG (44.9% from the field), 8.8 APG, 5.4 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 36.7 % from deep

2018-19 stats: 31.8 PPG (45.1% from the field), 8.4 APG, 5.7 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 37.9% from deep

Despite the rough start, Harden is having a more impressive season this year. The early season woes and injuries, especially to Chris Paul, have led to more responsibilities for the reigning MVP. Houston’s lead man has improved his scoring efficiency, the one parameter lacking the most in his offensive arsenal.

Even when Chris Paul is playing, the 33-year-old point guard has averaged career-lows in both points per game (15.6) and field goal percentage (41.5%). Whether that has something to do with his ongoing elbow issues or not, it is clear that his production has fallen significantly. Eric Gordon’s impact has also been limited due to shooting issues. He is shooting the deep ball with a staggering 28.8% clip, the lowest average since 2012-13 in New Orleans.

Regardless of his teammates struggling, Harden has continued to be spectacular. The early season has been filled with eye-opening performances. One such performance came from a 50 point, 11 assist, 10 rebound triple-double in a 126-111 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. The effort marked the 13th time a player had logged a 50 point triple-double; Harden has four of those stat lines.

Outlook

With the seasons that Giannis and Davis are having, it will be extremely tough for the Beard to repeat. In all honesty, they are more deserving at this time as both have had all-around stellar seasons thus far. Regardless, Harden’s name at least deserves to be mentioned and considered when discussing this year’s most valuable player.

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