Sports: Who’s the Real MVP, Russell, Steph, or James?

Wrote this at the end of last season, but the outlet that assigned it to me never published the post. So, I decided instead to post my prose here for Throwback Thursday. Two other writers and I were paid to make our case for the 2014-15 MVP and I was tapped to defend Harden’s credentials. Chef won the trophy, but Beard earned the player’s respect.

Check out my defense below.

James Harden’s 2014-15 is classic MVP tale. The Houston Rockets shooting guard has carried his ballclub on his back while second superstar Dwight Howard got his Zoolander on modeling suits from the bench—36 games now and counting. Meanwhile, The Beard’s team is just a game back of second place in the varsity conference and he’s done that while putting up 27 points, 7 dimes and 6 boards a contest. With a team that was projected to take a step back this season after losing third banana (!) Chandler Parsons and key cogs Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.

He’s been Big Game James all year long, too. Last night he put up 50 on Denver to keep H-Town on Memphis’ ass [II]. He outdueled Bron Bron earlier this month (a plus 14 effort on his part). He was one rebound shy of a triple double in a primetime January matchup against OKC (with KD, Russ and Ibaka in the lineup). He was the Western Conference Player of the Month for December and January. There was the Suns eclipse that included 20 points in the fourth quarter and a filthy game-winner. Against the top three defenses in the L he’s averaging 30.6 ppg. And he even put up a 20-6-6 stat line against the Spurs way back in November while helping to limit Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to a combined 5-24 shooting night.

While we’re talking about numbers, here, let’s get into some advanced metrics—this the part that the thugs skip!: Harden leads the league in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) by a comfortable margin over second-place Steph Curry and a distant-ninth Westbrook, he’s responsible for the most 3s (premium buckets) made via his own field goals + assisted triples and he’s thismany decimal points behind The Brow (speaking of, if a player notches a historic PER and no one sees it, do we care? No.) for tops in EWA (Estimated Wins Added).

But enough nerd talk and onto another narrative. Let’s bury a pair of ‘em, actually. First, Harden isn’t fun to watch. And, second, he doesn’t play defense. Just take a look at Vine on any given night this year and Harden’s defensive follies (#Vine180 kid) have been replaced with his crossovers, stepbacks and bend it like The Beards. Sure, Westbrook has been racking up triple doubles like Ice Cube on a good day, but all his missed shots aren’t exactly fun to watch. I’ll take the #SCTop10 edition instead. And Steph is only fun to watch on one side of the court; on the other he’s still being put in the corner.

Yes, Daryl Morey and the Rockets organization have been waving the pom poms for Harden a bit too much. But the lefty’s evolution from sixth man to complete player cements the GM’s philosophies, and trophies and hardware mean as much as to him as number crunching. The fact of the matter is, without a second star, let alone a third (0 still had 9 for most of the season), a Most Improved Player, Defensive Player of the Year or Coach of the Year candidate, James Harden has powered his team and proved to be the the most valuable player of all this season. Houston caused a lot of eye-rolling with their new King James campaign. But if the crown fits, award him.

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