This week at the society we’re making individual cases for six of the most eligible NBA MVP candidates this season. Check out yesterday’s first case for Chris Paul here.
At this point we know that James Harden is considered a frontrunner for MVP along with Stephen Curry. The two have been battling for the upper hand through this final stretch of the regular season. Harden recently endorsed himself as the MVP, as did Anthony Davis and others. While most (including me) believe Curry to be the odds-on favorite, my personal vote went to Harden a month ago and for the reasons supporting his case, my vote is still with him.
From the literal perspective of “most valuable”, no candidate qualifies more than The Beard. Harden has scored or assisted on more than 42 percent of his team’s points this season, the most in the NBA. It’s also the highest percentage since Derrick Rose’s MVP season with the Bulls in 2010-11. Without Harden on the floor, the Rockets average 93.6 points per 100 possessions, which would qualify as the second-worst scoring offense behind the Philadelphia 76ers. Harden has led the Rockets in scoring in 58 games this season, by far the most in the NBA.
Harden MVP case: Only players to average same pts/ast/reb/stl as Beard has this year are Jordan (1989) Bird (1987) LeBron (2008)
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) April 5, 2015
Adding to the popular argument for Harden is the nature of his surroundings. The next best player on his team, Dwight Howard, has been out for 41 games. The Rockets have gone 27-14 without Howard and remained in the top ranks of the Western Conference only because of Harden’s consistent dominance, which is necessary for the Rockets to compete, being that they’re 3-5 in games when Harden scored less than 15 points. When Harden scores 30 or more, they’re 30-5.
Houston is third in the NBA in DNP’s behind the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Los Angeles Lakers. Harden has had teammates injured all season, and he’s also led a team that keeps changing over time with the latest additions of Josh Smith, Corey Brewer, and Pablo Prigioni. Harden is the lone constant — he’s accompanied by the likes of some capable role players, just none of whom come close to his individual ability, making him the go-to guy and activator to single-handedly create the most successful scenarios for the Rockets offense.
By now we should all know that Harden shoots an insane amount of free throws (as of last night he’s 707 out of 816 at the line this season and he’s still made more than anyone else has attempted). This doesn’t directly contribute to his MVP case, but more so highlights just one of the facets of his impeccable scoring campaign and the tremendous amount of pressure he’s been putting on defenses this season. Harden led the league in scoring for a strong majority of the season and averaged no less than 25 points and 6 assists every month of this regular season.
From CBS Sports’ Matt Moore’s extensive three-part break down of the MVP debate between Harden and Curry (taken from part one):
Harden spends 27 percent of all his possessions in isolation this season, more than LeBron James, the most in the league. In a set that is defined by its inefficiency, Harden makes it crazy efficient, averaging 1.03 points per possession via Synergy Sports in ISO sets. He does this in a number of ways. He’s patient, he’s versatile, yes, he draws fouls, but mostly it’s that he’s deliberate. There’s no recklessness from Harden. He’s not fearlessly charging in half-cocked. He reads the defense, takes his man off the dribble and either hits the pull-up, gets to the rim, or gets fouled.
The candidates and especially the frontrunners for MVP all have incredible stats to their claim, but I agree with Grantland’s Andrew Sharp in that the semantics of this MVP conversation point to James Harden. Sharp and I also agree that it won’t happen, but in all fairness, Harden is probably the most deserving of this year’s MVP.