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James Harden finishes first in early media MVP poll

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This poll got it right. Let’s hope the real one does too.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

As the season winds down, the argument for NBA MVP continues to heat up. The battle between James Harden and Russell Westbrook has been going back and forth all season long, and in recent days, Kawhi Leonard and Lebron James have been getting a bump in recognition for their efforts this year as well.

Well, just yesterday, the Washington Post conducted a poll of 106 media members, some of who will be voting for the actual award in the spring and some who won’t be, and at least for the moment, Harden appears to be blowing away the competition.

The Beard finished with 53 of the available 106 first-place votes and finished in the top three on 102 of 106 ballots, which gave Harden a total of 910 points. This was 142 points higher than the second-place Westbrook.

Perhaps the biggest question is what NBA are the four writers who didn’t have Harden in the top three watching? I can see an argument for not having the Bearded One in the top spot (even if I don’t agree with it), but there’s simply no logic behind not having Harden in the top three. I wouldn’t put it past certain media members to intentionally drop Harden in an effort to lower his total points, hoping that the vote was close enough to prop up another player.

Anyway, here is the voting chart from the Post’s Tim Bontemps.

Even though it’s far from official, it’s good to see most voters (some of whom will be voting in the real race) have their wits about them. Those who want to hand the trophy to Westbrook simply for averaging a triple-double lack historical perspective on the award.

First, the last player to average a triple double, Oscar Robertson in 1962, finished third in the MVP voting. Why is that? Well, Robertson’s Cincinnati Royals finished just 43-37 that season. Meanwhile, Bill Russell, who was the MVP winner that year, lead his Boston Celtics to a 60-20 record and the NBA title. The second-place finisher was Wilt Chamberlain, who led his Philadelphia team to 49 wins.

Second, when was the last MVP winner to not lead his team to one of the top records in the league? Westbrook’s Thunder are on pace for 46 or 47 wins. They’re likely to finish in the sixth or seventh seed. Harden’s Rockets are on pace for 57 wins. They have a solid hold on third in the West. If they were in the East, they’d currently be the top seed.

You have to go all the way back to 1982 to find an MVP who didn’t lead his team to a top-three seed in the conference. That was the year Moses Malone led the Rockets to 46 wins and the sixth seed in the West. For those who aren’t counting, that’s 35 years.

The award is not just about individual greatness. It’s also about leading your team to wins. And while both the Thunder and the Rockets would be lottery teams without their respective stars, no one (and I mean no one) predicted the Rockets to make a push for 60 wins this season, not even us here at a Rockets fan site. Most had Houston pegged for around .500 or slightly above. They’ve exceeded expectations in almost every facet of the game, even defensively, where they are the 10th best team in the NBA since Patrick Beverley returned from injury early in the season.

There’s a lot of facets involved, from head coach Mike D’Antoni, to Daryl Morey putting together the right type of players, but the Rockets’ success starts and ends with The Beard. He’s elevating a team most thought would have to push hard just to have a winning season to a team with the potential to come out of the West. Does anyone out there think the Thunder have a shot at the title?

Anyway, it’s good to see most writers getting it right. Let’s hope it holds in a month. Because the Beard deserves it. For the record, here’s my MVP list.

  1. James Harden - An elite player having an elite season and leading his team to an elite record. That’s the stuff of an MVP year right there.
  2. Kawhi Leonard - Having a remarkable season himself, but the Spurs still make the playoffs in the West without him.
  3. Russell Westbrook - There’s no denying the raw numbers, but is he making his teammates better? The Thunder have more raw talent than the Rockets but are eight games worse than Houston in the standings.
  4. Lebron James - He may still be the NBA’s “best” player, but the Cavs have a ton of other talent and haven’t been as dominant this season.