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Rockets’ James Harden is the NBA MVP, and it’s not close

Rockets’ James Harden is the NBA MVP, and it’s not close

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Houston Rockets guard James Harden is doing things on an NBA court we have not seen since the great Wilt Chamberlain. That includes Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

Harden heads into the weekend averaging 37.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game. This would be the highest per-game average since Chamberlain was bullying smaller players.

The premise: Despite potential shortcomings elsewhere, Harden has proven that he’s the NBA MVP. It’s not necessarily even that close. Here’s a look at the top NBA MVP contenders less than two months into the season.

Player PPG RPG APG SPG FG% PER
James Harden 37.6 6.1 7.5 1.8 .439 31.8
Giannis Antetokounmpo 31.0 13.2 5.5 1.4 .565 34.0
Luka Doncic 30.3 10.1 9.2 1.4 .478 31.9
Anthony Davis 26.0 9.1 6.2 1.4 .490 28.5
LeBron James 25.4 7.0 10.8 1.4 .498 27.2
Pascal Siakam 25.0 8.6 3.8 0.9 .464 19.6
Kawhi Leonard 25.0 7.9 5.3 1.9 .439 24.7
  • Of these seven top-end candidates, only Doncic has overall numbers that compare to what Harden brings to the table. That’s no small thing, especially given the statistical brilliance of one LeBron James.
  • Efficiency has been the name of the game for Harden. It’s unlike what we’ve seen in the past in that he was more of a volume scorer. In fact, look at his points per field goal attempt average thus far compared to other top-end MVP contenders.
Player Points per shot
Harden 1.64
Antetokounmpo 1.54
Doncic 1.49
Davis 1.41
James 1.29
Siakam 1.25
Leonard 1.22

The knock on Harden in the past is that he has not been efficient. He takes a lot of shots. Hence, the high per-game average. That has not been the case.

Speaking of efficiency: The raw numbers tell us a story of a dude that is dominating at all levels offensively. Historical levels.

  • Harden ranks third in field goals made. He’s behind Giannis and LeBron in that category. The only other ball-dominant guard in the top 10 is Trae Young.
  • The Rockets star ranks first in both three-pointers made and attempts beyond the arc. It’s led to a tremendous .532 effective field goal mark.
  • Harden also ranks first among all NBA players in both free throws made and attempts from the charity stripe.
  • He’s third in player efficiency rating, eighth in assist percentage, first in usage, first in offensive win shares, first in overall win shares and first in offensive plus-minus.

This leads us to another point: Harden has improved vastly on the defensive end of the court. It’s like night and day.

  • There’s a reason Harden ranks No. 1 in overall win shares this season. While he won’t be mistaken for Kawhi Leonard on defense, the guard has upped his game.
  • Among the top-seven MVP candidates we’ve focused on here, he ranks second to only Leonard in steals.
  • Harden is also yielding a sub 43% field goal mark when being asked to be the primary defender on the season.
  • Add in that type of defensive improvement with Harden’s historical outings on offense, and he’s in a league of his own.

Record matters, a lot of season left: We’re talking about who is currently the MVP. There are other factors that will play into this as the season progresses.

  • By virtue of their win over the Raptors on Thursday night, the Rockets sit at 14-7 on the season. This has them on pace to win 55 games.
  • While that would be a tremendous mark, the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Dallas Mavericks and Toronto Raptors — all with MVP candidates — have better records.
  • This award is not about the player who puts up the best stats. It’s all about who is the most valuable to his team.
  • That’s where Harden comes into play. He legit has the worst supporting cast of any of these seven we’ve covered here (sorry Russell Westbrook). That should be taken into account.

The bottom line

As noted above, there’s a lot of season to go. What we do know is that Harden has been historically good on offense and vastly improved defensively.

Sure, the likes of James, Davis, Leonard and George get more national press. That’s the nature of the beast with the Lakers and Clippers existing in the second-largest media market in North America.

Luka Doncic is an international sensation. Giannis has been since he entered the league. Meanwhile, Harden simply continues to up his game to levels we have not seen in recent history.

Should Houston win 50-plus games with Harden continuing at somewhat near his current pace, he’s the hands-down MVP. That’s not even in question right now.

Related slideshow: The NBA 2010s All-Decade team (Provided by Yardbarker)


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