Could this finally be the year?
The Houston Rockets star guard James Harden has now narrowly missed out on two MVP trophies, finishing second place to Steph Curry in the 2014-2015 season. He lost due to the Golden State Warriors’ superior record, voters said.
He then finished second again in the 2016-2017 season, this time to Russell Westbrook, but on this occasion, part of the rationale was his opposition for the award had a worse record. Westbrook averaged a triple-double, and because of our puny human brains’ obsession with round numbers, 1.8 rebounds became more important than creating the second-most points in NBA history (by one measly) point and, more importantly, eight wins.
Up until last year, the trophy had always been about greatness and winning. But at the end of the day, it all simply amounted to inexplicably moving the goal posts on Harden in order to fit some pre-conceived media knob-slobbing of the specific player they wanted to see win the award due to his perceived better marketability.
But guess what, folks? The Beard is back again this season, better than ever, and through the first three weeks of the year — admittedly super early — he has to be considered the front runner for the MVP award this season.
Harden, like Russ, was supposed to have some more help this year. But his main sidekick, future Hall-of-Fame (but aging) point man Chris Paul has played a measly one game on the season due to a knee injury. The Beard has responded by leading his team to an 8-3 record, which currently has them sitting in first place in the Western Conference standings (the Warriors are also 8-3, but lost to the Rockets head-to-head).
His numbers are as good as ever. Harden is currently averaging 29.5 points per game, which would be good enough for the highest mark of his career if it holds. He’s also averaging 9.7 assists and 1.5 steals, all the while shooting 46 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc. His offensive plus-minus of +9.5 would also currently be the highest of his career.
He just went off for an otherworldly 56 points on 19-25 shooting against the Utah Jazz and has now scored 145 points over his last four games after getting off to somewhat of a slow start (for him) to begin the year. The Beard is turning on the juice, and the Rockets look like one of the best teams in the league through the season’s first three weeks. This is despite the injury to Paul, and Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon and Nene have also missed games.
It hasn’t been a perfect start for The Beard and the Rockets — Harden’s rebounding is down, Houston is still working to integrate new players P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute into their offense, their three-point shooting percentage as a team is a decidedly pedestrian 33 percent. The Memphis Grizzlies have been a Houston kryptonite, handing the Rockets two of their three defeats.
Harden’s defense also continues to be a mixed bag, mostly due to the energy expanded on offense, but we’ve seen glimpses of a better Harden as a defender. He has better defensive personnel around him than ever before, and I expect he’ll improve even further once Paul returns and can handle some of the offensive load.
But considering Paul’s injury and the new rotation members, it’s been as successful a start for the Rockets as one could hope. They’re fourth in overall offensive rating, 12th in overall defensive rating, and sport the league’s second-best overall record behind the 9-2 Boston Celtics, who are over in the Eastern Conference. And the straw that stirs Houston’s drink is undeniably James Harden.
A closer look at the early competition actually doesn’t even show too many jostling at the front for Harden’s early lead.
The Thunder, after getting Westbrook significantly more help in the offseason, have mostly looked like hot garbage up to this point in the year. Russ is assisting more and scoring less, but OKC has yet to figure it out. Sure, there’s plenty of time for them to get it together, but Russ likely has to be even better this season than last, and I just don’t see that happening. Another triple-double season isn’t going to be the one-off it was last year, and I firmly believe history will end up unkind to Westbrook’s stat-padding ways when all is said and done.
Marc Gasol has been good for the Grizzlies, but the Grizz might actually get less national love than the Rockets, if that’s even possible.
Kawhi Leonard has yet to play a single game for the San Antonio Spurs. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are in ninth place right now in the East (yes, ninth). LeBron’s been as good as ever, but he’ll need to be even better to turn this Cavs squad into a true contender.
There’s always Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant, but the Dubs have looked mortal so far this year, neither is having their finest start statistically at the moment, and it is possible that the press may finally have some Golden State fatigue after several seasons serving as the automatic darlings of the league.
Kyrie Irving has been one of the main catalysts to the scorching start in Boston, but he’s averaging just 22 points and 5.7 assists. Not quite MVP-level numbers.
Many have been touting Giannis Antetokounmpo and the start he is off to as the heir apparent, and rightfully so. The man is averaging 32-10-5 to go along with 1.5 blocks per game and a sky-high PER of 32.7.
Milwaukee also just traded for Eric Bledsoe, giving the Greek Freak a significant scoring second option as a sidekick. But as it stands, the Bucks are 4-6 in the mediocre East, and surely Westbrook’s win last year hasn’t started us down that road, has it? It’s bad enough that the Thunder were first-round fodder, surely we’re not about to say that the player who’s in the early MVP race lead now this year over James Harden is a guy whose team isn’t even above .500, right? You have to win more than you lose to be truly valuable, right?
Certainly 8-3 has to be considered “more valuable” than 4-6, right? The goal posts aren’t about to get moved again, right? There’s no way that’s possible, right? If the Rockets keep winning, and Harden keeps torching the league, It’s gotta be The Beard’s season this year, right?