James Harden’s NBA MVP candidacy is complicated

This year’s MVP race in the NBA is incredible. There are eight players with legitimate cases to win the award, and if you speak to anyone with a ticket on one of those men, you will likely hear an impassioned case as to why they deserve the title of Most Valuable Player.

At BetMGM, Joel Embiid is the 2/1 favorite, followed by LeBron James (5/2), Nikola Jokic (4/1), Luka Doncic (12/1), Stephon Curry (12/1), Giannis Antetokounmpo (14/1), James Harden (16/1) and Damian Lillard (18/1).

I have led the charge on James Harden’s candidacy this season, but I am not so close-minded that I refuse to see the path for each player to win the award. Harden is still available at 25/1 at DraftKings and BetRivers sportsbooks so, as always, shop for the best odds. Here’s where I see the Nets star’s candidacy heading into the second half of the season.

The Case For

Much like a couple of guys on this list, Harden has the potential to be the best player on the best team. When Brooklyn acquired Harden, it was just 7-6 heading into a game against Orlando. Since that day the Nets are 17-7 with the best offensive rating in the league (120.4), and Harden has been a driving force behind this improvement. Kevin Durant has played in just 10 games since Harden has become a Net, one of which was the tumultuous loss to Toronto in which he did not start.

Nets James Harden NBA MVP
James Harden

Harden also has the statistics behind him as well. He leads the league in assists (11.1), is third in Offensive Real Plus-Minus (6.42), seventh in RPM Wins (5.64) and currently averaging a career-high 1.312 points per shot attempt. With him on the floor, the Nets are outscoring opponents by 7.7 points every 100 possessions.

He also thrives running their small-ball lineup without Irving and Durant, outscoring opponents by a whopping 7.5 points every 100 possessions when in command of those units. Should Harden maintain his pace in the second half, and Brooklyn takes the top seed from the Philadelphia 76ers, there is no question he has a claim for his second MVP.

The Case Against

The obvious place to start here is his time in Houston at the beginning of the season, the first thing out of anyone’s mouth when cutting down Harden’s candidacy. In the final five games with the Rockets Harden was nowhere near himself, averaging just 17.4 points per game on 37.8 percent shooting with 10.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game. His final days culminated in him telling the media his team was “not good enough” after a loss to the Lakers in which he scored just 16 points on 5 of 16 shooting. People say Harden quit on Houston and should be disqualified from the award.

The other factor here actually has yet to happen, but it is the return of Durant. If Durant finally returns from injury in the second half, what does it do to Harden’s résumé? Most will disqualify his numbers as a result of playing next to two superstars, and his scoring numbers could potentially dip as he returns to his role as a facilitator. As we know as well, he has his issues as a defender as well. However, I believe that won’t play as big a factor with some voters given the known limitations of this team overall.

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