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Moore: James Harden’s Historic Season Likely Won’t Win Him the MVP (Again)


Tim Warner/Getty Images. Pictured: James Harden (13) of the Houston Rockets.

  • James Harden, despite his potentially historic season, is becoming the Rodney Dangerfield of the NBA.
  • He's currently behind Giannis Antetokounmpo (-145) and Luka Doncic (+350) at the FanDuel Sportsbook in terms of his MVP odds (+460).
  • Matt Moore discusses why betting Harden to win MVP this season is becoming an increasingly futile effort.

James Harden is averaging the fourth-most points per game in NBA history through 38 games, more than Michael Jordan ever did in any season in his career.

That sentence, if taken without context by someone who is not a sports fan, is unremarkable if read as a trivial fact. They’re just words on a page about numbers in a database. After all, these numbers only really hold the meaning we grant them.

But if you know anything about the NBA, if you care even a little about the sport, it should stop you in your tracks. It should stun you into reconsidering what you think about Harden.

You can hate his foul-baiting, 3-point hoisting, air-deflating-with-his-dribble farcical, mockery-of-the-game style, and still you have to stand a little bit in awe of what he’s doing.

(NOTE: I do not feel that way about his game, but after long trying to defend the media from accusations of bias against Harden by Rockets fans, I’ve had to admit there’s a lot more conversational whining about “not liking his game” than there needs to be.)

And yet, I can’t stop there. For reasons that baffle me, the fact that Harden is averaging 7.5 assists per game (ninth-best in the league, by the way) in addition to scoring 37.8 points per game as of this writing never gets mentioned.

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People will often speak of Kobe Bryant’s 2006 campaign in which he did not win MVP as some sort of absolute crime against basketball humanity.

So just to completely crystallize this:

  • Kobe Bryant 2005-06: 35.4 points | 5.3 rebounds | 4.5 assists on 45-34-85 shooting splits for a 45-37 seventh-seeded Lakers team that finished third in their division
  • James Harden 2019-20: 37.8 points | 6.2 rebounds | 7.5 assists on 45-38-86 shooting splits for a team currently on pace for 56 wins

It is, quite honestly, insulting to Harden to compare those seasons. Harden is scoring more, making more plays for others, rebounding more and shooting better for a considerably better team than that squad.

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