James Harden deserves the most prestigious individual award in basketball



Houston Rocket’s James Harden

Vandy Manyeh, Contributing Writer

James Harden, the Houston Rockets’ fiery player, deserves the 2019 NBA MVP Award.

In New York, he went into Madison Square Garden and scored 29 points in three quarters. With 1:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, Harden went into the locker room, wore his skinny pants, laced up his regular kicks and watched his team take down the Knicks in a 120-96 blowout.

But, you may say, that was the Knicks.

OK, I get it. Everyone blows out the Knicks.

The guy walked into the AT&T Center, hit nine back-breaking threes and scored 13 points in less than 3 minutes en route to 61 points versus the San Antonio Spurs.

At the Oracle Arena, the Rockets were down by three points with 50 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Harden went coast-to-coast, isolated Kevin Durant, the NBA’s best wing defender, and nailed a step-back three to tie the game. On the defensive end, he rebounded the ball off a miss by Durant, created some space and nailed a three while Klay Thompson defended him.

The Rockets ran a Harden-riddled offense during that stretch. So every team expects Harden to have the ball in his hands for the majority of the offensive possessions in overtime. And he still beats them.

The Warriors went on to score 15 more points. Harden’s Rockets went toe-to-toe with 13 points. With five seconds remaining on the game clock, Gerald Green inbounded the ball to Harden in the Warrior’s half.

Barbecue chicken time. Thompson and Draymond Green switched on Harden – his favorite scenario on the offensive end. He knocked down another three and secured a crucial win for the Rockets.

Yes, he was able to take down the Warriors without his main supporting cast – Chris Paul and Clint Capela.

Whether it’s against a tanking team like the Knicks, a well-coached team like the Spurs, or a team that’s stacked with multiple All-Star players, Harden headlined the “Unguardable Tour” throughout the regular season.

You may say you’ve seen all that before. Harden’s offensive capabilities, since the Rocket’s General Manager Daryl Morey brought him to the Toyota Center, aren’t newsworthy anymore.

And as a person who has been against handing the MVP Award to a player simply because he put on a show during the regular season, I had to switch gears.  

Talking heads have reduced the voting metrics for this season’s award to what a player did on the offensive and defensive ends. Oh, and the “anomalies.”

What about the Rockets’ standing this season?

The Rockets would’ve been the second seed in the Western Conference if not for an eleventh-hour 112-111 loss to the Thunder. That loss left the Rockets in the fourth spot, with a possibility of playing the Warriors early on in the playoffs.

If the Rockets finished second in the conference, no one would have anything negative to say about the final regular season standings. It’s ridiculous to let the difference of one made basket against the Thunder minimize everything Harden did to even keep them within striking distance of the second seed. That’s what MVPs do.

On the offensive end, Harden was an assassin. He scored 30 or more points in 57 games. He led the NBA with the highest scoring margin since Wilt’s Chamberlain 1963-64 season while moving above 20 Hall of Famers on the all-time scoring list.

He also registered 7.5 assists per game. Without Paul, Capella and Eric Gordon in a combined 53 games, Harden was able to lift the Rockets from what could have been a lost season in a tough Western Conference, to the fourth spot.

He’s been great on the defensive end, in a one-on-one scenario. Haden averaged 2.0 steals per game, 0.18 steals per game behind the leader in steals, Paul George. To be fair, I’ll give Giannis Antetokounmpo, the guy in Milwaukee claiming to be the league’s MVP a point here. The Bucks had a league’s best 104.9 defensive rating during the regular season. The Rockets turned things around and ended the season with the fifth best defense in basketball.

Not too shabby.

Finally — the “anomalies” — a voting metric that gained notoriety during the 2017 Russell Westbrook-Harden MVP debate.

Harden is the first player in NBA history to average 36.1 points per game while notching at least 7.0 assists per game. Harden recorded the longest 30-point scoring run since Michael Jordan’s 1987-88 season – 57 in total. The “Bearded One” had a 40-point game 28 times during the regular season, equaling Jordan’s 1986-87 season.

The Rocket’s offensive juggernaut also had nine 50-point games, the third-highest total in NBA history. He became the fourth player since Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Chamberlain to record multiple 60-point games.

Ending the season with 2,818 points, Harden is the only player in history to reach that number with at least 500 assists and 500 rebounds.

Westbrook ran in the shadows of Oscar Robertson and won it. Harden ran in the shadows of the “GOAT.”

Harden is up 2-1 versus Antetokounmpo.