The race for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award is already heating up and it’s only January. But a large reason for that has been the play of a few big names, one of which is Houston Rockets star James Harden. The 29-year-old guard has played at a level even more impressive than his 2017-18 MVP campaign. In turn, this has led to the hype around him winning the award again picking up steam.
And while Los Angeles Lakers future Hall-of-Famer LeBron James dealt with a groin strain which has sidelined him for a stretch, he consistently finds his name in the mix as league MVP. James is on a new team this season, so the group is working out the kinks, but he’s still managed to remain a top candidate.
Although Giannis Antetokounmpo is Harden’s biggest competition for the award at this moment, the evaluation goes a bit deeper than that. The question has to be posed of whether the Rockets star is simply a better player at this point in his career than James is.
James Harden’s Dominance With Less Around Him
Following a 135-134 overtime victory against the Golden State Warriors without teammate Chris Paul in which Harden simply went wild, the MVP chatter was at an all-time high. After all, when a player hits a game-winner like this, it’s hard not to cement his place at the top.
Harden has averaged a career-high 33.6 points, 8.6 assists and 5.9 rebounds through 34 games, but it’s how he’s doing it that’s so impressive. When Paul went down with a hamstring strain in mid-to-late December, many expected things to come apart at the seams for Houston. But following the above game-winner, the Rockets had won six straight games, all without Paul in the lineup.
Harden scored 39 or more points in each of those six games and has helped propel the Rockets back into the mix at the top of the Western Conference. In general, Harden’s production and the fact he’s winning games at this rate with a shorthanded lineup and a roster with little depth is eye-opening.
LeBron James Remains Underrated-Level of Elite
There’s been a popular belief that James simply gets overlooked for the MVP award because some say he’d win it every year otherwise. Harden taking home the award last season proved that to not be true, although LeBron has continually played at an exceptional level. While joining a new team and having new faces around you can’t be an easy task, he’s continued to thrive.
Aside from the scoring, James’ numbers rival Harden across the board. He’s shot better from the field (on fewer attempts) and averages 27.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists through the first 34 games. On paper, Harden likely gets the edge currently, but the Lakers star also has more talent around him in the likes of Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Rajon Rondo, and other strong role players.
The supporting cast James has in Los Angeles is superior to that of Harden, which isn’t something we’ve been able to say in years past. But even with that being the case, LeBron has produced MVP-caliber numbers.
The argument could be made either way, but Harden is at least pushing James as one of the NBA’s most dominant and overall best current players. The big question is whether or not the Rockets star has actually surpassed the man dubbed as ‘King James’ at this point.