Flagrant shots to James’ king jewels aside, Harden is the league MVP.
Never before has an MVP race been this tight this late into a season. Strong cases can be made for Harden, James, Westbrook and Stephen Curry, with a few others being mentioned as dark-horse fodder. But when factoring in the body of work to date, Harden has inched ahead of everyone else.
Part of this rise is statistical. In addition to leading the league in scoring and posting gaudy lines regularly, Harden ranks fourth in player efficiency rating and first in win shares. Five of the last six MVPs have led the league in win shares.
Context is the other, more important part of this.
Houston lost two of its top four scorers over the offseason in Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons, and Dwight Howard has missed a career-high 27 games thus far, with more absences to come. And yet the Rockets, with Harden as their lifeline, remain in play for a top-three playoff spot, the importance of which cannot be overstated.
Injuries and roster subtractions can derail entire seasons. It wasn’t until James got healthy that the Cavaliers began to dominate, and the Oklahoma City Thunder are left clinging to eighth-place postseason hopes in the wake of injuries to both Kevin Durant and Westbrook.
Of all other possible choices, Harden has done the most with the least. He has no superstar sidekick right now—no point guard he can defer to, no clear second in command he can count on. That the Rockets are still smack dab in the center of championship discussions can only be described as incredible—an extraordinary feat headlined by an extraordinary player.
Syed Mikhail Hussain is fan of all things NYC and Hip Hop. Winner of the sperm race back in ’89. He does a weekly basketball podcast. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter at @swishthis.