Twenty-five games into the season the Houston Rockets had an 11-14 record. A record that had Houston out of the playoff picture. Questions starting swirling around. Did Houston make a mistake that would cost them a shot at a championship by letting Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute go in free agency? How much will Chris Paul’s contract hamper Houston? What can be done to right the ship? Since then Houston has won 11 of 13 and are now 22-16. They are currently the fifth seed in a loaded western conference. The driving force behind it all? MVP candidate James Harden.
MVP Candidate James Harden
In legendary company
In the last thirteen games, Harden is averaging just under forty points a game at 39.9. During that span, Harden scored over 40 points five games in a row. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Allen Iverson are the only other players to ever accomplish such a feat. Harden is currently on a streak of twelve straight games with thirty plus points, and ten straight games with thirty-five plus points. One more thirty point game for Harden will put him in a tie with Moses Malone for most consecutive thirty point games in Rockets history.
On December thirteenth in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers, Harden put up a fifty point triple-double. His fourth fifty point triple-double of his career, which is the most in NBA history. Only six players have accomplished a fifty point triple-double: Harden, Russell Westbrook, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Richie Guerin. Of those six only four players have done it multiple times (Harden, Westbrook, Baylor, Chamberlain).
While shouldering the bulk of the offensive responsibility Harden is still averaging 8.8 assists over the last thirteen games.
Is This Production Sustainable
Last season Harden led the league in usage rate at 36.3 percent. While doing so Harden won the MVP award and led Houston to the western conference finals. However, in Houstons last seven games Harden’s usage rate has been well over forty percent. In 2017-18 the most consecutive games that Harden’s usage rate was over forty percent was three. Whether or not Harden can continue to perform at such a high level without getting worn down remains to be seen. However, to expect such a high level of performance without any fatigue kicking in at some point is asking a lot.
The Case for Hardens Second MVP Award
At this point in the season, Harden has to be included in any MVP conversation. He is producing at a historic clip and doing so without a second all-star. Paul is still a very good player but can not stay on the court and is playing at a noticeably lower level than last year. If Harden can sustain his current level of play he should run away with the MVP award. Even if there is a dip in production if Harden continues to carry Houston to a top-four seed a Harden should still be a finalist for the award.
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