The consensus of what it is to be an MVP candidate in the NBA fluctuates from person to person, and from region to region; even the most novice observer among us can see that. Some say the best player on the best team in the league should always be MVP while others believe the individual who has proven to be most valuable to his teams standings has the necessary qualifications for consideration. Others still would argue that an individual who stuffs the stat sheet while scoring in the high-twenties should always be given consideration. Lastly there are those who believe the award should be given to the leagues most dynamic player.
To that end, this seasons MVP race has been extremely interesting because it included a player who personifies each of the aforementioned qualities. Theres Stephen Curry, the best player on the best team in the league. LeBron James, the best player on the planet. Russell Westbrook and his triple-double output represents the stat dijoir this season. And if youre looking for a dynamo to complete the argument theres none more dynamic than young Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans, although his name has actually only been orbiting the MVP race this season but has never really been in the mix.
At this point it is almost a forgone conclusion that Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors is the odds on favorite to win the trophy, which would make him the first Warrior to hoist the award since Wilt Chamberlin won it with the Philadelphia Warriors in 1967.
But theres a man who has carried his team to the second seed in the Western Conference after braving the dangerous Southwest Division with such predatory teams as the Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans, the always formidable Memphis Grizzlies and the defending NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs. That man is James Harden of the Houston Rockets. While you most likely knew that already, whats not known to me is why some who observe the game feel like its been Stephs award to lose since before the All-Star break when Harden has been doing just as much but with far less?
This isnt necessarily an argument against Stephen Curry and his stellar season, but more like a Why not Harden? postulation. Heres the skinny; hes averaging 27 points per game, 7 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game all while shooting 37 percent from three-point range. Thats not too shabby at all. Its not Stephs Hawkeye accurate 44 percent, but its more than serviceable. Additionally, Harden gets to the line more than just about any guard in the league at 10 free throw attempts per game. Curry shoots 4 free throws per game.
So to clarify, Harden is scoring more per game, averaging almost as many assists, grabs more rebounds while shooting a very respectable 44 percent from the field. Yes, Curry is shooting nearly 50 percent from the field and has a better free throw percentage than Harden as well, but he falls short in almost every other stat. Now, lets try to measure the immeasurable with some good old numbers behind the numbers. Harden is the fourth most efficient player in the NBA with a 26.7 PER, second in impact behind Steph with a 8.30 real plus-minus and leads the league in win-shares at 16.4.
If thats not enough, James Harden has carried his team through a season in which Dwight Howard has missed 41 games, point guard Patrick Beverly has been injured and is out for the season, PF Terrence Jones has missed most of the season and the Rockets biggest mid-season acquisition, Josh Smith, has been super-inefficient. Yet Harden just keeps chugging along and racking up wins and points. I would be remise for not mentioning the San Antonio Spurs are the bane of his NBA existence as hes only averaging 19 points per game against them, but Curry has fits against San An as well. Heck, everybody does. And please dont sit there and say Steph is a better on-ball defender than Harden because hes not. Neither of them could guard a coffee table, and while no one has called him defensive, at least Harden will make sure the coffee doesnt spill.
So when Stephen Curry is finally given his MVP Award we will of course give the man his proper respect. But the only reason we can think of for Harden not winning the award is a heretofore unrecognized, league bias against extreme facial hair. And though the award will have long been awarded when by the time the playoffs get really thick, thats the precise moment when well all see who the real MVP is.
Harden can’t win the MVP? “I would disagree.”