Love him or hate him, James Harden is setting the league on fire this season with his historical play. Winning the MVP is difficult in the NBA. Claiming the award in back-to-back seasons? Almost impossible. Against the odds, with a nation rooting against him, here’s why the Rockets superstar will be named the league’s MVP again.
Why James Harden Will Be Named MVP
Against All Odds
Winning the MVP this season for Harden was always going to be challenging. On February 19th, it got a little more difficult. For the second consecutive season, Houston, the nation’s seventh-largest media market, was denied one of the 100 media votes for the MVP award. Harden won despite this last season, but voters are less inclined to vote for a repeat candidate. Milwaukee and Oklahoma City, the two cities with the other top MVP candidates (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George, respectively), both have media market votes. Combine these factors with the scrutiny Harden’s play has come under and you have a man playing against extreme pressure. But the Beard’s been beating the odds all year long.
Player efficiency rating uses a formula that rates a player’s statistical performance and combines all his contributions into a number to determine his impact on the game. At the moment, James Harden leads the NBA in PER with 30.8. Meanwhile, the Greek Freak comes in second with a PER of 30.3, and George is currently 13th with 24.9. Harden is currently on a scoring streak of 31 straight games with 30 or more points, a feat not witnessed since the likes of Wilt Chamberlain. The Beard doesn’t only lead in PER, but his 36 points per game are the most a player has averaged since Kobe Bryant, 15 seasons ago. His historic tear has even garnered its own nickname, “The Unguardable Tour.”
Value Over Replacement
Value over replacement measures the impact a player has on the game, compared to someone playing in his place. The NBA’s most valuable beard leads players in this category as well. Harden is first with a VOR of 7.0. His closest competitors, Antetokounmpo and George, currently boast VOR’s of 5.6 and 4.3, respectively. The Greek Freak stands in second and George in fifth when looking at this telling stat. Harden’s value simply cannot be overstated.
Box Plus/Minus (BPM)
Box plus minus equates the difference a team outscores its opponent with each player on the floor. Harden comes in first in this statistic as well. The Beard has a BPM of 11.8. The guys chasing him for the award? Giannis is in second with a BPM of 10.7, while George is eleventh with a BPM of 6.4. The Beard clearly makes the most difference when he’s on the court compared to any other player in the league. Houston has looked helpless with Harden on the bench for the majority of this season.
Injuries are a part of every team in throughout an NBA season. However, this season’s Houston Rockets have been decimated by them. The other two legs of Houston’s “Big 3”, Chris Paul and Clint Capela, have each missed extended time due to injuries. Paul has missed 23 games due to a continuous hamstring injury. Capela is bound to return after the All-Star break, but has missed the Rockets last 15 games. Combine the injuries of Eric Gordon, Gerald Green, along with the others, and Houston’s had a banged up ship this year. A ship, Harden has somehow managed to keep afloat. The Rockets stood at 12-14 when the Beard’s historical run began. Since the injuries suffered by Paul and Capela, Harden has managed to lead Houston to an impressive 21-10 during this banged-up stretch of the year. In contrast, George and Antetokounmpo’s teams have been relatively healthy this whole season.
Milwaukee is one of the deepest teams in the NBA. The Greek Freak is a deserving candidate. However, he has an All-Star (Khris Middleton) and a roster full of healthy, underrated role players who’ve helped the Bucks to NBA’s top seed. George is having the best season of his career, but he’s not even the most valuable player on his own team. The Thunder’s MVP is Russell Westbrook, sitting on an astonishing 11 triple-doubles in a row at the moment.
The Freak and PG13 are both worthy candidates, but it’s clear from his historical play and stats that Harden is this season’s MVP. Take George off the Thunder, OKC slides to a late seed in the West. Take Giannis away from the Bucks, and Milwaukee slides to a late seed in the East. Without Harden, Houston would slide out of the playoffs to the bottom of the standings. The Rockets need the Beard to survive. Lucky for Houston, the NBA’s most durable player isn’t going anywhere. Love it or hate it, don’t expect The Unguardable Tour to end anytime soon.
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