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Back to Back? James Harden’s Case for His Second MVP

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Harden’s Recent Performance

In the last 15 games, The Beard is on an absolute tear. He’s putting up a ridiculous 40.5 points per game (PPG) and the Rockets are 12-3 in this span. Harden’s average game score is 30.8 (a score of 10 is average). Furthermore, Harden’s 34.1 points per game on the season is 5.2 points above second place Anthony Davis. Houston has quickly climbed from the lottery to the center of a competitive playoff race. In 38 games this season, Harden has scored less than 20 points only three times. Meanwhile, he’s dropped at least 30 points 25 times, at least 40 points 13 times, and he has two 50 pieces on the season.

The Stats

Critics laud Harden for his foul-baiting nature and his league-leading 11 free throw attempts per game, but the way that he gets his buckets is to be applauded. For Harden, 86.2% of his buckets are unassisted, and he takes 58% of his shots while a defender is within four feet. Despite the difficulty of his shot selection, Harden shoots a rather impressive 42% with a defender in his grill.

On top of that, 11.7 of his 12.6 three-point attempts per game are pull-ups, yet he’s still shooting 39% from deep, and when he steps back, it seems as though he splashes it 100% of the time. Although that statistic isn’t entirely accurate, over 51% of Harden’s three-point attempts are step-backs, and he’s money 44.4% of the time from deep after dancing with his defender.

The Beard has been cooking all season with his iconic step-back three. Image courtesy of sbnation.com

Of Harden’s 34.1 points per game this season, nine points come from the paint, another 9.4 come from free throws, 15 come from three, and just 0.8 points come from mid-range. He’s truly been the quintessential efficient scorer since his buckets come almost entirely from layups, free throws and threes.

Harden Compared to the Field

Harden leads the league in total points and PPG, 3PM, 3PA, FTM, FTA, MPG and usage rate. He’s also tied for third in assists, and while he isn’t known as a good defender, he is fifth in steals.

When looking at advanced stats, Harden is equally impressive. He leads the league in offensive box plus/minus, box plus/minus, VORP, and he’s second in offensive win shares. Furthermore, Harden’s 39.2% usage rate not only leads the league, but it’s currently the second highest of all time. It isn’t a stretch to say that Harden’s level of involvement and impact on the Rocket’s offense is historic. He’s an absolute offensive machine by nearly every metric.

With Chris Paul injured, Harden has stepped up tremendously and truly put the team on his back. If the Rockets continue to climb the standings, and Harden maintains his 2005-06 Kobe-esque levels of scoring, Harden could very well have his second MVP award on lock.


Stats courtesy of http://stats.nba.com and https://www.basketball-reference.com/

Featured image by Gary A. Vasquez of USA Today

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