Harden’s Journey to a Long, Overdue MVP

With the exception of Paul Pierce Day, it’s been over two months since I’ve posted something related to this NBA season. Of course, I’ve been watching and paying as much attention as usual, but just haven’t had the time to put the words onto a document.

Two nights ago I was able to attend the Houston Rockets vs. Minnesota Timberwolves game.

So, naturally, considering everything that I could write about, I will choose my annual praising of James Harden for being very good at basketball.

 

 

 

 

At the end of the game, Harden found Karl-Anthony Towns matched up with him on the perimeter, and he didn’t disappoint. Two times in a row Harden sang KAT a lullaby with his dribble and drilled step-backs to erase any hope of a Wolves comeback.

Some guy in my section was just talking about how terrifying it has to be defending Harden that far away from the rim on an island. “He does whatever he wants, it’s like 2K!”…. Splat! He can do whatever he wants, and makes shots like this look routine. The whole time the ball is floating to the basket, it’s dead on, and you know it’s going in.

 

 

 

 

A lot has happened over the last few years for me, but almost nothing has been more exciting in my basketball life than completely converting myself to Hardenism.

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Pictured above, James Harden, is one of our four Left Lords

James Harden’s reign as one of basketball’s Left Lords began immediately with his professional movement to Houston. There were many doubts that Hardenism could uphold itself in the court of basketball, but ancient Euro Gods supported James claim to isolation within the realm of hoops. Newcomers were hesitant to convert to Hardenism until further evidence showed that The Bearded One could lead them to the line that divided foul and fair.

Last season, The Bearded One finalized his transformation into an assist machine. He has been among the league leaders over the past few seasons by way of lobs, nonchalant pocket passes, and over-the-shoulder whirlwind assists.

 

 

 

 

But maybe the most impressive assists from him have been the growing urban legends off the court within the Houston strip club community. It is widely known that our Bearded God loves to go out, but there are claims that he once spent so much money in a club that his jersey now hangs in the rafters. Like Kobe Bryant said, “friends come and go, but banners hang forever.”

Okay, I’m probably going over the top with the Hardenism stuff, but that doesn’t change what my stance has been on Harden for the last handful of seasons.

It is forever my duty to remind the public that Harden was robbed of an MVP award last season from Russell Westbrook. My 1,345 word case laid out all the details of why Harden should have ran away with it.

But instead, we’re infatuated with the story of the underdog, and nice, big numbers.

Which, by the way, is hilarious since James Harden was the major underdog four seasons ago. It could be argued that he had an MVP trophy poached from him by Stephen Curry. Don’t forget, James Harden was later named the MVP during that season’s first ever NBPA Awards Show.

2014-15 James Harden: 27.4 points, 7.0 assists, 5.7 rebounds, .511 eFG%, 7.8 VORP

2014-15 Stephen Curry: 23.8 points, 7.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds, .594 eFG%, 7.9 VORP

When taking into consideration the differences in their team’s talent, it’s easy to see why the NBA players believed Harden was more valuable than Curry.

What Curry accomplished that season was tremendous — along with kick starting the era of basketball we identify with in the present — but I didn’t think he was more worthy of the award.

The Rockets were projected 49.5 wins. They went way over that margin by grabbing 56 wins and the second seed, before being dragged to the Western Conference Finals by Harden — the league’s eventual MVP runner-up.

A freaking two seed with Josh Smith, Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer, Terrance Jones, Jason Terry, Clint Capela (who was NOT Clint Capela), Pablo Prigioni, Nick Johnson, Kostas Papanikolaou.

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James Harden Accepting his NBPA MVP 2014-15 — Photo Credit: SI

Somewhere there is an alternate universe where Harden didn’t lose out on two MVP awards and is on his way to getting his third in four seasons — which is possibly the highest accomplishment you can have on Golden State’s Monopoly board.

The narrative could be flipped and Harden’s individual accolades would dwarf not only Russell Westbrook’s, but Kevin Durant’s, along with many others. Who would have guessed that?

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Photo Credit: Reddit

With a legitimate shot at a championship this season, we aren’t too far off the trail of James Harden being considered one of the two or three best perimeter players of the last couple generations.

Instead, we scroll by tweets where people whine about his free throw rate, and defense and let it go unnoticed.

Which, by the way, if you’re still complaining about Harden’s defense you’re stuck in 2014-15. Harden is one of the league’s better post defenders — regardless of position — and is very solid in isolated situations. A few seasons ago, he got exposed by Vine (RIP) for commonly falling asleep as a help-side defender. He has gotten much better, give him credit!

In my opinion, he stands as the league’s best offensive weapon. His ability to create and score at an efficient clip is unmatched, really, at any point.

Most Points Produced in a Game in NBA History:

  1. 1.Wilt Chamberlain –104
  2. 2. James Harden — 95
  3. 3. James Harden — 91
  4. 4. Oscar Robertson — 88
  5. 5. Bob Cousy — 87
  6. James Harden, Kobe Bryant — 86

How many players have we seen better at scoring AND creating than James Harden? He’s flat-out one of the best offensive talents basketball has ever seen. And when your list is very short, take into consideration how impressive that is.

Here’s a list of statistics from players at the four-year peak of their powers, click on the player links to find out which player is who.

For a reference, here is LeBron James from 2012-2016 (even though his four-year peak has been anywhere during the last 10 seasons. These were his last two seasons in Miami and his first two back in Cleveland.).

26.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.9 assists, .575 eFG%, 118 ORtg, 103 DRtg, 31.3 VORP

— click the links below, points, rebounds, assists, effective field goal percentage, offensive rating, defensive rating, value over replacement player — 

Player A: 29.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists, .497 eFG%, 114 ORtg, 106 DRtg, 20.1 VORP

Player B: 28.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 8.6 assists, .521 eFG%, 118 ORtg, 106 DRtg, 29.2 VORP

Player C: 27.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 7.1 assists, .502 eFG%, 112 ORtg, 105 DRtg, 25.2 VORP

Player D: 28.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, .573 eFG%, 123 ORtg, 103 DRtg, 22.1 VORP

Player E: 22.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 12.1 assists, .522 eFG%, 123 ORtg, 106 DRtg, 29.1 VORP

Player F: 28.1 points, 9.1 rebounds, 6.8 assists, .542 eFG%, 120 ORtg, 103 DRtg, 33.7 VORP

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So, here we are again. A season later, after what many believed would be the peak of James Harden, and he’s still peaking. A late bloomer, who has thrived in Houston the way a fire does with gasoline.

We are in an era of basketball where it’s considered impossible to win with one superstar on your roster. After another failed postseason run, last season ended with Harden facing responsibility for their failures. The verdict was that he can’t perform at a high level in the playoffs, but the reality is that he couldn’t do it by himself. Houston traded for Chris Paul and now sit with the best record in the NBA while Harden has continued his reign.

James Harden is leading the league in scoring at 31.4 points per game while being the most efficient he has been since arriving in Houston. He is also playing the least amount of minutes in his career since his last season in Oklahoma City.

Harden has guided the Houston Rockets into the All-Star break with the best record in the NBA, and the best basketball offense we’ve ever seen.

Harden leads the league in: three-point field goals, three point field goal attempts, free throws, free throw attempts, points per game, total points, player efficiency rating, offensive win shares, total win shares, win shares per 48 minutes, box plus/minus, offensive plus/minus, and value over replacement player.

While leading in those categories, he’s second in assists per game, third in total assists, second in assist percentage. But maybe the most impressive statistic, and largest improvement, is that Harden has less turnovers than Westbrook, Cousins, and LeBron, despite leading the league in usage — huge improvement from last season.

You can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and Harden’s coveted MVP, finally, awaits him. If the season ended today, Harden is more than deserving in comparison to the rest of the field. He’s the best player on the best team, has the best numbers, and absolutely has the best case.

It wouldn’t be unanimous, and it won’t be, but if this continues, it should be.

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