"Do I feel like I belong in it? I feel like I am the MVP," said James Harden in a most-match press conference,
On current form, it is hard to argue against 'The Beard', who has won the award once during his 12-year career. Since the contenders for this season's MVP award has broadened recently given Joel Embiid, LeBron James and Kevin Durant's injuries, James Harden is emphatically staking his claim.
As per the latest odds by William Hill, James Harden ranks fifth in the 'race' for this season's MVP award, with Denver's Nikola Jokic the new favorite. However, the shooting guard could have a stronger case if he continues his stellar performances this campaign.
On that note, let's have a look at three reasons why James Harden could win this season's MVP award.
Three reasons why James Harden should be considered for this season's MVP award:
As the season approaches its business end, the race for the MVP award should be an interesting one. Now that the best teams in the league are separating themselves from the chasing pack, it is becoming clearer which players are worthy of the award given their team's performance.
So, without further ado, let's take a look at three reasons why James Harden is worthy of taking home the MVP award this year.
James Harden's shooting prowess is obviously on an elite level. But it is what he has done this season for his teammates in Brooklyn that has strengthened his stake for the MVP award.
In 31 games since arriving on the East coast, James Harden has averaged 11.4 assists per night for the Brooklyn Nets. During this period, no other Nets player has come within 1.4 dimes of his tally.
During his time in Houston, James Harden was criticized for dominating the ball and not creating enough for his teammates. While that was largely unwarranted, as he averaged 7.7 assists per game across nine seasons for the Rockets, his move to point guard in Brooklyn has brought into focus just how good James Harden can be in distributing the rock.
James Harden has twice led the league in assists, on both occasions racking up 11.2 dimes per matchup. However, he is expected to surpass that tally this season, as he has some of the best shooters in the game in his team.
Apart from having options on the wings, James Harden will now have Blake Griffin along with center DeAndre Jordan for pick-and-rolls as well as lobs to the basket.
#2 Varied skillset
Coming into a Brooklyn Nets team where he is not the only superstar and where there is a genuine championship opportunity is what James Harden sought out of a trade from Houston.
Doing so has allowed the 31-year old to adapt his game further and not just his passing. One example of that is his free-throw rate this season.
Currently, James Harden is taking 7.6 shots from the line compared to over 11 per game in the last two seasons and 10.4 during his stint with the Rockets. Put simply, he is less worried about getting into the paint and drawing fouls anymore.
A closer analysis reveals that James Harden begins his drives to the basket from nearer the rim and ends further away, which indicates that he needn't rush to the cup and draw contact. That has led to a career-high 28.5% field-goal attempts coming from within 3-10 feet of the basket, as can be seen, four times in the clip below, on the last of which James Harden drew a foul.
James Harden is also averaging a career-high in rebounds this season. He has bagged 11 triple-doubles already, which is higher than his tally in the past three campaigns.
His defensive boards account for a fifth of Brooklyn Nets' overall tally and help equate to a win share of 5.4.
There are only two guards in the league who are averaging more rebounds than James Harden per matchup - Russell Westbrook and Luka Doncic.
#3 Improved shooting
Just because James Harden is surrounded by elite shooters doesn't mean his knack for scoring sprees has vanished. So far, he hasn't needed that too often with the Brooklyn Nets' stacked roster.
Nevertheless, fans have caught rare glimpses of what could be expected come the playoffs when the Nets may have their backs against the wall. Back in February, without Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant, James Harden led a 24-point Brooklyn Nets comeback against Phoenix, scoring 38 points, including the go-ahead 3 late in the game.
In the last ten games, all without KD and four without Irving, James Harden has had to take matters into his own hands. During this stretch, he has put up 27.8 points a night on 42.4% shooting, including two 40+ point nights against the Pacers and Pistons, respectively.
James Harden's shooting is at its most efficient since 2012. He is taking fewer but more effective efforts. For example, his 2-point field-goal attempts currently account for 55.9% of his attempts with the Brooklyn Nets, while his 3-pointers account for 45.9% - a split that hasn't been seen in his game since 2016.
There is no doubting James Harden's ability to turn it on when he wants from the deep, though. His offensive rating is at an all-time high of 123, which could be crucial to the Brooklyn Nets in the playoffs, particularly when defenses will worry about Irving and KD on the floor.