James Harden‘s start to this season has been phenomenal, from lighting up the Utah Jazz’s stout defense with 56 points to Thursday night’s torching of the young Phoenix Suns, Harden has been playing like a man possessed. He’s not only leading the league in scoring with his 30.7 points per game average, he’s also leading the league in assist with 10.3 assist per game. He is posting these tremendous numbers while leading the Houston Rockets to the best record in the NBA.
So, what could be fueling the man who boasts the most well known beard in basketball? It might have something to do with the fact that his two MVP caliber seasons have both been overshadowed by other players’ historically great seasons. In the 2014-2015 and 2016-2017 seasons, Harden had amazing all-around years by anyone’s standards, yet he was second in MVP voting both times, first to Golden State Warriors’ point guard Stephen Curry and then to Russell Westbrook from the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was arguably just as valuable as both in those two years but the dazzling style of Curry’s three-point wizardry and the will-enforcing nature of Westbrook’s triple-doubles were a bit more attractive to the eyes of the voters.
This year though, Harden is making a case that no one in the NBA can currently compete with. LeBron James is once again reminding the world that he’s still the benchmark for any player in the NBA, but the Cleveland Cavaliers’ chemistry issues and slow start to the season won’t do him any favors in the voting process. Then you have Giannis Antetokounmpo, the future of the NBA in many eyes, averaging career highs in both point and assist but the Milwaukee Bucks are currently sixth in the east while Harden’s Rockets have the number one record in the league.
Aside from those two, Curry and his partner in crime Kevin Durant will split votes between themselves while Kahwi Leonard hasn’t played yet this season. Westbrook, last year’s winner, has taken a step back while trying to ease the integration of two more high-usage players in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.
That leaves Harden as the lone favorite so far for this year’s MVP award, and with his team playing extraordinary basketball with no signs of them slowing down, there’s no reason to doubt that this will finally be the year Harden’s groovy excellence is recognized. He has been doing it without his acquired All-Star Chris Paul, who’s been out for a month nursing an injured knee. The rest of the team has stepped up, with five player averaging double digits in points and their defense showing signs of not being completely inept as it seemed at times last year.
Most of the team’s success though, can be traced back to Harden, who has taken it upon himself to not only put up big numbers but to start embracing the role of the leader of this team in a way that wasn’t exactly noticeable last year especially in the playoffs where either fatigue or pressure robbed us from seeing the Beard that we all know. This year though, as long as he keeps his team rolling, will see Harden finally get his time in the spotlight as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player.