And The 2015 NBA MVP Is…James Harden

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Updated: March 24, 2015
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James Harden, the man affectionately known as “The Beard” is one of the best players in the Association. The question is, is he the best player of this current season? LeBron James and Kevin Durant (when healthy) are the best players on the planet, and by a wide margin. But there’s a sub-class of elite players that guys like Harden, Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, Chris Paul and probably Anthony Davis are in right now that’s a lot of fun to watch.

And this season the MVP race is a two-horse between Harden and Steph, and maybe an outside chance to Russell Westbrook who seems to be a man playing possessed right now. But If I had to a cast a vote for this season’s MVP, the clear winner for me is James Harden. Harden is getting it done on so many different levels that for him to be overlooked would be a tough sell for me, and I’m a lot of other people as well. But what does make Harden the clear favorite in my view?


More With Less?


The NBA has been ravaged by injuries this season and the Houston Rockets have not been lucky in avoiding the injury bug. Star center Dwight Howard has been missing for a large portion of the season and has played in just 32 games. Dwight is a top 10-15 player in the league and definitely a top 3 center, so missing his sort of production would be difficult to overcome for any team. But during his absence Harden has managed to keep the team afloat with a supporting cast that is less than stellar.

The Rockets are sitting 3rd in the ultra competitive Western Conference and Harden is the main reason this team is staying afloat. He’s nearly unguardable on a nightly basis and he can almost score at will. This season Harden is averaging 27 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds on 44% shooting. The shooting percentage leaves a bit to be desired but when taken in context with having to carry the load while missing his all-star partner in crime, the low shooting percentage is not the end all be all.

Again, Harden is doing this with a cast of really good role players but with no other star next to him. Patrick Beverly is decent point guard who can play very good defense, Trevor Ariza is a lengthy shooter that can hit perimeter shots as well as 3’s when necessary, Corey Brewer is a work horse and has done well since he was traded to the team from the Minnesota Timberwolves in December of this season, and Josh Smith is, well, he’s Josh Smith.

Just playing with Josh Smith must be some sort of unfair handicap that Harden has to endure but he’s still managing to keep the ship afloat. They are all good players but there’s not an elite sidekick among them. It can also be argued by anyone who has watched the Rockets knows that coach Kevin McHale can also prove to be a hindrance. McHale is not much of an X’s and O’s guy, but Harden covers up for McHale’s coaching deficiencies on a nightly basis by being nearly unstoppable.

Harden is carrying this team to the playoffs and his effort can’t be scoffed at. But there may be another reason that some people refuse to buy into the notion of Harden as the MVP. A reason that when looked at in a different light, is quite interesting.


Ref Baiter You Say? Wouldn’t Be The First Time…

 james-harden-free throw

One knock on Harden’s game that has puzzled me since he got to the Rockets were the strange complaints about Harden constantly pulling a con-job on the referees to get easy fouls thus inflating his numbers. This logic is puzzling because Harden isn’t doing anything against the rules by drawing fouls, and most big stars draw fouls.

That’s just how the NBA works and has worked for years. This “Ref Baiting” complaint is convenient to levy against Harden but it’s always seemed lazy to me.

A player who gets to the line often isn’t something that should be frowned upon, it’s just a part of the game that’s been around for years. So it got me to thinking about other dominant players in league history and whether Harden’s free throw numbers were just an anomaly to him specifically, or is this something all great players have had to their advantage but for some reason Harden is the only one being singled out for it? The numbers are quite interesting.

In his 3 seasons with the Houston Rockets, Harden is averaging 9.8 Free Throw Attempts per game. Let’s look at some other incredible scorers and compare three-year windows:

Michael Jordan: 1986-1988, 10.7 Free Throw attempts per game


Kobe Bryant: 2004-2007, 10.1 Free Throw Attempts per game


Allen Iverson: 2003-2006, 10.5 Free Throw Attempts per game 


*Kevin Durant: 2013-2015, 9.6 Free Throw Attempts Per game


There’s an asterisk by Durant because his total was only for the last two full seasons he has played, but Durant’s trajectory has been going up and with the way he played last season, there’s a strong argument to be made that Durant would be right on par with Harden’s current free throw attempt numbers of 9.8 had he been healthy all season.

People have to get out of the “ref baiting” hate narrative and understand it’s part of the game. Great scorers have always gotten to the free throw line more often than others because they create such havoc on the court that it’s a certainty lesser players will have to foul them to keep them from scoring.

Harden isn’t doing anything that the aforementioned players and countless other players have done in the Association. It’s not ref baiting, it’s just basketball. And the sooner people can come to grips with that the sooner they’ll realize they’re nitpicking at one aspect of Harden’s game which he has no control over.

Don’t blame the Jordan’s and Iverson’s and Bryant’s and Harden’s of the world for their numerous free throw attempts. Blame the league and the refs for calling the fouls every time a star player gets touched. Harden is doing what he’s allowed to do and that’s fine.

If you need another thing to hang your hat on for the MVP debate in favor of Harden is that the man is actually trying on defense this season. Harden has been notoriously lazy on the defensive side of the ball and it’s more lack of effort than skill for Harden’s defensive woes. But with Dwight Howard gone, Harden has improved on the defensive end.

These stats from give you a detailed look at Harden’s defensive numbers this season and they aren’t shabby to say the least:

James Harden defense

Steph Curry’s been exceptional this season and is on the best team in the Association. Russell Westbrook has been a one man wrecking crew the past couple of months and I can see why his name is being thrown in the MVP discussion. And hell, if Anthony Davis could stay healthy and lead his team to a playoff spot with all the injuries the New Orleans Pelicans have endured this season, I can see why his name would come up also. But for me, the MVP is James Harden.

The Beard has put this team on his back night in and night out, and with all the circumstances surrounding the team, he’s had to do way more for his team than anyone else I think. In the end, may the best star win. But in this case, I think that star should be The Beard.

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