Does James Harden Have a Case for MVP?

The James Harden was a pretty big trade – one that shook up the NBA landscape.

The Houston Rockets, Harden’s former team, is enduring a twenty-game losing streak. The Cleveland Cavaliers gained a nice young piece for their rebuild. The Indiana Pacers moved on from the Victor Oladipo, with big man Domantas Sabonis now taking the helm as the team’s first option.

But the Brooklyn Nets? They have made their rising ascent into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. Before making the trade, the Nets were sitting at 7-6; now they’re 29-14 – second in the East with the four-best record in the NBA. Harden’s impact on the team was immediately felt, and he has helped Brooklyn with having the league’s best offense so far.

Of course, acquiring James Harden wouldn’t come without any sacrifices. By trading for Harden, the Nets were forced to give up a reliable scoring option (Caris LeVert) and perhaps the best defender on their team (Jarret Allen). But the move would pay off tremendously, as Harden has kept the Nets near the top of the Eastern Conference. Even more, he’s doing it while putting up an MVP-caliber season along the way.

Looking at the Raw Numbers

So far this season, Harden is averaging 25.4 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. That has him ranked him 16th and 20th among other NBA players, respectively. But the stat that sticks out the most is the assist total – 11.3 assists per game, first in the NBA. Considering that Harden already led the league before in assists per game (11.2 in 2017), this isn’t too much of a surprise.

As always, Harden has always been a great shooter, and this year is no different. Harden is currently averaging .470 percent from the field, and .367 percent from three. Since joining the Nets, Harden has been shooting .477 percent from the field, and .373 from behind the arc.

Impacting the Team

Harden’s impact on the Nets offensively cannot be understated. Since acquiring Harden via trade, Brooklyn has sported the best offensive efficiency in the league, with an offensive rating of 117.9. They even have the best effective field goal percentage to boot as well, with .584 percent. Thriving as Brooklyn’s main facilitator, Harden is third in assist percentage, behind only Russell Westbrook and Luka Dončić.

In terms of his general impact on the court, Harden is 5th in the NBA in both offensive real plus-minus (6.04) and RPM wins (7.18). He is fifth in the league in both win shares (6.2) and tied with Giannis Antetokounmpo for fourth in offensive win shares (4.7).

Harden has always performed well in the clutch, and his clutch ability hasn’t missed a bit this season. Not only is Harden is in the top ten in clutch points scored, but he’s also tied for fourth in the league with 16 clutch wins. (Interestingly, teammate Joe Harris sits ahead of Harden with 17 clutch wins.) Harden has greatly contributed to the Nets having a league-best 18 clutch wins (tied with the Portland Trail Blazers), and the fourth-best winning percentage in clutch games (.720).

Breaking Records, and Breaking Free

Harden isn’t just putting together an MVP-caliber season – he’s also breaking many Nets franchise records along the way.

Games with 30 points and ten assists? Harden has six, breaking the Nets single-season record in only 27 games. 20 point points/assists double-doubles? Harden has 27, the fourth-highest total in a single season by any Nets player. What about triple-doubles? With eleven triple-doubles this season, Harden has more than double the amount of any other player in Nets history, save for Jason Kidd. Speaking of Kidd, Harden just needs one more triple-double to tie Kidd’s franchise record.

There are even some records that Harden is on the verge of breaking. Games with ten or more assists? Harden already has 21 of those, doing it in just 26 games. Meanwhile, it took Deron Williams 78 games just to reach 22 in the 2013 season.

Given how productive Harden has been so far, expect a few more single-season franchise records to be broken by him soon.

Potential Dark Horse Candidate for MVP?

With MVP candidates LeBron James and Joel Embiid dealing with injuries, Nikola Jokić appears to be a lock for MVP honors. Seeing as how Jokić is putting up career numbers with an impressive statline (27.1 PPG/8.3 RPG/8.6 APG) all while leading the Denver Nuggets up the West standings, it’s hard not to see why.

However, if there is one player that can challenge Jokic for MVP – especially with LeBron and Embiid both sidelined – it’s Harden. The former MVP has not only led the Nets near the top of the Eastern Conference, but he has also commanded the offense masterfully with Kevin Durant out of the starting lineup.

Of course, there are a few counter-arguments against Harden’s MVP candidacy. Some critics will point out that no player has ever won MVP while being traded in the same season. And there’s no getting around the way that Harden left Houston. But there’s no denying that Harden changed the complexion of the Nets when he arrived in town and made them a very exciting team to watch. Even if Harden doesn’t win MVP, he definitely has been playing like one thus far.

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