James Harden: Back to Back MVP?

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LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 17: NBA player James Harden of the Houston Rockets attends GQ Celebrates The 2018 All-Stars In Los Angeles at Nomad Hotel Los Angeles on February 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)

The NBA has had many great players over the course of history. Players like Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant are just a few names of the all-time greats that come to mind. These players all had historically great seasons, and they were recognized for that with the most prestigious regular season award in basketball, the MVP award. It takes a historic season or a season of complete dominance in order to be crowned MVP. During these past few months, James Harden has deemed himself as a more than worthy candidate for this prestigious award. He has put together a remarkable season that has shocked the NBA and has put up historic numbers to help lead his injury-plagued team to a top 5 seed in the west.

James Harden’s Back to Back MVP Case

Leading a Huge Turnaround

The Early Struggles

Coming off of a huge 65 win season, expectations were high to start off for the Houston Rockets. With the addition of Carmelo Anthony, everyone expected the Rockets to start off the gates firing on all cylinders. Though there was a lot of optimism around the team, they started off extremely slow. The Rockets defense was playing at an extreme low, and their offense just wasn’t clicking. Everything was going wrong for Houston, and to make matters worse, injuries began to plague the team early on. Players such as, Brandon Knight, Marquese Chriss, Eric Gordon, and Harden missed several games, but the one player that Rockets fans feared would get hurt was Chris Paul. Then, during a game against the Miami Heat, the fear of Paul getting injured became a reality. Paul had suffered a hamstring injury that would ultimately sideline him for over a month.

The 30 Point Streak

With the Rockets taking blow after blow, hope was slowly fading away for Houston. Though the fans felt this way, Harden was not ready to give up on this season just yet. Harden had no other choice but to put up a historic run to keep his team afloat. Harden went on a complete tear and scored at least 30 points in 18 straight games, and in that span, the Rockets jumped from the 14th seed to the 6th seed. Everything was going great for Houston until they got hit with another blow. Clint Capela suffered a right thumb injury which would sideline him for four to six weeks. Though the Rockets got hit with another massive blow, Harden was not ready to quit. He went on to score at least 30 points in 32 consecutive games and led the Rockets back to a top 5 seed in the West.

Houston’s Recent Success

While Harden had kept this Rockets team above waters through his historic 30 point streak, Houston’s core was starting to become healthy. Paul, Gordon, and Capela were all starting to return to the court, and soon enough this Rockets team was looking like the same team they were last season. They were improving both offensively and defensively as their big four had begun to start coming back to their normal form. With Harden running the show, his now fully healthy supporting cast was contributing in many ways. P.J. Tucker and newly acquired players, Kenneth Faried and Austin Rivers, brought great energy to the court. They showed a great sense of urgency in every game they played which drove their successes on the court.

Currently, the Rockets are riding a hot 6 game win streak. During this win streak, they have beaten three “powerhouse” teams in the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, and the Golden State Warriors. This Harden led team has jumped to 3rd in the Western Conference. They are now officially firing on all cylinders. Everything is falling in place for Houston. They are now looking like the potential 50+ win team that everyone had expected them to be. Harden has made them look like the biggest threat to the Warriors once again. He single-handedly kept the Rockets afloat, and now they are dominating on the court.

Harden’s MVP Like Numbers

The three important elements for winning MVP are the story, statistics, and team record; and right now Harden has all three of those. The way he was able to turn around the Rockets season with his 30 point streak has become a huge story. His statistics are through the roof as he is averaging 36.6 points per game, 7.5 assists per game, and 6.5 rebounds per game. The Rockets have now gone from the 14th seed in the west, to the 3rd seed in the west. His stats seem to stand out more than any other MVP candidate right now. The only thing going against him is the Rockets’ slow start. That is also the only reason this year’s MVP race is even close.

Other Candidates

Giannis Antetokounmpo is on the team with the best record in the NBA which has him near the top of the MVP race. He has put up great stats, but not nearly as great as Harden’s stats. He has also been a better two-way player than Harden this season. Paul George has also made a case for himself to be the MVP. He has led his team to a 39-25 record, and his two-way play this season has been remarkable. He leads the league in steals per game and is also top five in scoring.

Why Harden is the Better of the Candidates

To a value standpoint, none of these candidates are as valuable as Harden is. He has the highest value over replacement player in the NBA with 7.4. Without Harden, the Rockets wouldn’t even be a top 5 team in the west. Harden is on pace to be the third player since 1987 to average at least 35 points per game. He has shown to be the most deserving player to win the MVP award this season and has arguably the best case to do so. With 18 games remaining this season, Harden looks to build on his case to win MVP.

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