NBA Futures: Rockets' Streak Could Win Harden His First MVP
James Harden Could Be Runaway MVP
Despite averaging career-highs in points, assists, three-pointers made, and rebounds last season, and helping the Rockets improve by 14 wins, James Harden didn't win the league's Most Valuable Player (MVP) award instead losing it to former teammate Russell Westbrook. Had it been any other season, Harden would've won the NBA's most prestigious award and this season is looking like that season.
Harden's Rockets are 25-4 and have the current longest active winning streak at 14 wins and the best road record at 12-1. Houston is on pace to become just the third NBA team to hit the 70-win mark. Much of this is because of the addition of All-Star guard Chris Paul and big man Clint Capela's improved play. But the team's leading man is still Harden.
If they keep this up, it'll be hard to deny "The Beard" his first MVP.
The Time is Now for Harden and the Rockets
Harden opened at +1200 to win the MVP award tied for fifth with the likes of former MVP's Westbrook and Curry. The Rockets' addition of Chris Paul probably took some shine out of Harden, oddsmakers believed, as Kawhi Leonard (+800) was ranked higher despite his injury. Harden is making opening odds look foolish and is playing even better than he did last season.
The five-time All-Star is averaging career-highs in points (31.3), three-pointers (4.2), and three-point shooting per cent (39.2) all while decreasing his turnovers (4.3). Harden currently leads the NBA in points, three-pointers made, usage rate (35.7), and win shares (6.8). He's also third in assists and player impact estimate (18.9). The only other player in the discussion is LeBron.
Harden and the Rockets keep rolling and it'll be hard to deny the team with the best record the MVP award. Six of the past ten MVP winners came from the league's best team with eight of the ten coming from a team that was first in their respective conference. The two times an NBA team broke 70 wins, their leading player received the MVP. All good signs for Harden.
The Rockets currently lead the league in offensive rating (113.8) and are second in net rating (+11.4) and true shooting per cent (60.7). Most impressively, the Rockets are seventh in defensive rating (102.5), improving 11 spots from their 18th-placed finish last season at 106.4 efficiency.
Naysayers will point to Harden's lack of defence as a detriment to his MVP-candidacy but former MVPs like Steve Nash and Derrick Rose weren't exactly lauded for their defensive acumen. The addition of Paul appears to weaken Harden's case as well but again looking at the past, the likes of Kobe Bryant and James won the honour even with the presence of All-Star teammates.
A case can also be made that Harden deserved to win MVP the past two seasons and the voters are still human and have a tendency to give "makeup MVP awards".
Bryant won the 2007-08 MVP award, which wasn't his best season statistically, not just because he deserved it but because he was "due". With one-third of the NBA season in the books, all Harden and Houston have to do is maintain close to this level of play and the bearded wonder should clinch his first MVP award even with the presence of a king from Cleveland...
LeBron and Cavaliers are Still Eastern Team to Beat
All this "Harden for MVP" talk isn't completely counting LeBron James out. The four-time MVP hasn't won the prestigious award since 2013 when he was still a member of the "Heatles". Despite losing Kyrie Irving and being without Isaiah Thomas, LeBron's Cavaliers are killing it.
After starting the season at 5-7, the Cavs have won 18 of their last 19 games thanks to James playing his best basketball ever. LeBron is averaging 27.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 9.3 assists per game on 57 per cent shooting and a scalding 40.1 from downtown.
His shooting accuracy and assists are both career-highs and his scoring is his highest since the 2009-10 season. His 34.5 PER also leads the league. LeBron opened at +500 to win the MVP behind only Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo but he is outplaying the youngster at this point.
Cleveland remains the cream of the crop in the East despite Boston's scalding start. The Cavs are -161 to win the Eastern Conference (including playoffs) and are tied with Houston at +500 to win the NBA Championship. As the season heads to the new year, look for both LeBron and Harden to continue elevating their jaw-dropping level of play.
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