Ever since the arrival of LeBron James, the NBA's Most Valuable Player award has seemingly shifted back and forth between him and a few other players. Now that James Harden is finally reaching superstar status, the King has a bit more competition than usual.
The question with Harden is, realistically, can he win the award? Even begging the question challenges the notion that the only player really eligible for MVP status is the best player on the best team, which has traditionally been the winner of the award. But now, with the formation of super teams such as the Miami Heat, some wonder if the award is better fit being given to a player who truly carries his team, making everyone around him a better player than they would have been without him.
Giving Harden the award would upset the status quo, but an even more important question than whether or not he can win it is, what would it take for him to deserve it? Certainly the Rockets have to make the postseason, but how high do they have to climb in the standings? Additionally, he’ll have to maintain the unbelievable numbers he has put up this season, but thus far that hasn’t been an issue.
A CLOSER LOOK AT HARDEN’S IMPACT
Since becoming the heart of the Rockets franchise, Harden has gone to great lengths to show that he was worth Darryl Morey’s investment in him. Currently fifth in the league in scoring, Harden has put the Rockets on his back, leading them to a 17-14 record and a postseason position in the standings in a year where the Rockets were widely considered more likely to have their name on a lottery ball than a playoff series.
Averaging 26 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists per game, Harden has thrown in himself into the mix for the award with some elite company. His rivals include James (26 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists), Carmelo Anthony (29 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists), Kobe Bryant (30 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) and Kevin Durant (28 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists). When comparing his work to the names mentioned, popularity seems to be the deciding factor among pundits at times. But should that have anything to do with it? Or does pure merit serve as the best deciding factor?
There is a compelling argument for each of those players, but there isn’t a player mentioned that if he wasn’t on the team, the team would fail to compete most nights.
In the case of James and Durant, they are the leader of star trios and teams with benches that are built for championships. On any given night, they are surrounded by players who can take the lead role for a day and provide assistance on the way to a title. For James, it’s Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, two all-star caliber players who won his first ring with him. For Durant, it’s fellow Olympic gold medalist and all-star Russell Westbrook and the league’s leading shot blocker Serge Ibaka. What would James or Durant’s impact be without those players? Much the same, but Miami and Oklahoma City as a whole wouldn’t be rock solid favorites for a trip to the NBA Finals.
In the case of Anthony and Bryant, each plays on a team that has so many names on it that can make a difference on any given night that while they carry the team, it’s more because the guys around them have heralded them as the go-to guy. Anthony has Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith and the returning Amar’e Stoudemire to rely on for back up while Bryant can call on the league’s best center in Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and one of the greatest passers of all time in Steve Nash.
Consider that for Harden, the closest thing to back up comes in the form of Jeremy Lin, who has been inconsistent to say the least this season averaging 12 points and 6 assists per game. The next best scorer the Rockets have is Chandler Parsons at 15 points per game, a far cry from the assistance the other MVP candidates receive.
Essentially, Harden is carrying Houston on his own. It raises the question of how do you define MVP? Pundits like Charles Barkley would say that we stick to tradition in choosing the MVP, picking the best player on the best team, but is that criteria true to the words Most Valuable Player? Does value imply that a player has to lead his team to the best record in the league?
What is the greater achievement? For James or Durant to take their super talented teams to the playoffs as a one seed or for Harden to pull the Rockets from certain failure into a playoff position? If the former Arizona State man is able to maintain his current averages and take the Rockets to the postseason, regardless of what happens there, he should be considered the league’s MVP in the most literal sense those words can convey.