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When it comes down to the 2017-2018 NBA MVP race, the list is narrow. Names like LeBron James, Anthony Davis and James Harden stand out the most, and rightfully so.
Anthony Davis has been on an absolute tear since the All-Star break, putting up numbers in the box score that make you question your own eyesight on a nightly basis. LeBron James is having arguably his most complete season to date, but it has become something that we’ve come to expect from “The King” year after year.
Persuasive arguments could certainly be made for both Anthony Davis and LeBron James, who are each having fantastic seasons. However, there is a certain smooth-stroking shooting guard, leading the team with the best record in the NBA, whose MVP case is far too compelling to be denied. The man that is simply known as “The Beard” has been a cold-blooded assassin on the court all season, and if you don’t believe me just ask Wesley Johnson:
Entering Exclusive Company:
This season, Harden is the league leader in points per game with 31.0, Win Shares at 13.3, PER at 30.48, Value Over Replacement at 7.47, Free Throws Attempted at 10.1 per game, Free Throws Made with 515 (a whopping 90 more than the next person despite missing eight games) and is 2nd in Real-Plus Minus at 6.83 trailing only his teammate Chris Paul. His 8.7 assists per game rank third in the NBA to go along with his 2.0 assists per turnover ratio, which is the best of his career.
According to Basketball-Reference, Harden is on pace to enter a class so elite, that he will be only the second player of all time along with Michael Jordan to have averaged at least 30 points, 8.0 assists, 5.0 rebounds and had a true shooting percentage of 60% or higher in a season. For those of you who are not familiar, a true shooting percentage takes into effect your two-point field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage and your free throw shooting percentage.
Would You Like a Side of Defense With That Offense?
The reigning runner-up for MVP each of the last two seasons has scored at least 20 points in all but one game this year and 50 points or more on four separate occasions. His 60-point triple double earlier this season against the Magic was not only historic, it was the very first of its kind. Enough about the offense let’s hear about Harden’s so-called “Sketchy Defense”. “The Beard” is averaging a career-high 1.9 steals per game to complement his career high .7 blocks per game. This is even more impressive when you factor in that he is playing his fewest minutes per game since becoming a Houston Rocket in 2012 at 35.6 minutes per game.
According to NBA.com, out of the NBA’s top 25 most targeted defenders on isolation plays, Harden has been the stingiest of them all. Harden allowing only .72 points per possession leads the NBA. Still not a believer? Out of all players with at least 50 post-up possessions defended, Harden ranks second in the league allowing just 0.59 points per post-up possession. The one player ranked ahead of Harden is former defensive player of the year and 7-footer Marc Gasol. Dust off your glasses and see for yourself.
Conclusion and Record Against Top Competition:
The Rockets are 2-0 against the Warriors this season with Harden in the lineup, 2-0 against the Cavaliers, 2-0 against the Trailblazers, 3-0 against the Timberwolves, and 3-0 against the Spurs. Only a handful of those games were even decided by seven points.
Harden has simply been the best player this season on the team with the best record in the NBA. The Rockets are winners of 22 of their last 24 games since Harden returned from his seven-game absence and show no signs of slowing down. You have every right to argue that the Warriors may be the “better” team, but there has been no denying the brilliance and improved play of James Harden this season.
James Harden: Associated Press
LeBron & Harden: SI.com
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