When discussing possibilities for the 2013-2014 NBA MVP, the discussion is most likely bouncing back and forth between LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
Occasionally a vote goes to Kobe Bryant, but those two generally corner the market. Well, not so fast. There’s another horse in this race that doesn’t get as much media attention, but under the right conditions could absolutely be this year’s NBA MVP: James Harden.
Harden is one of the most underrated superstars in the NBA. Yes, it was just a few years ago that Harden won the 6th Man Award with the Oklahoma City Thunder, during a time where he did not even start in the same lineup as Kevin Durant. So how could he beat Durant for the MVP?
Since his 6th-Man days, Harden has shattered all expectations and become one of the NBA’s elite scorers. During his days with the Thunder as a the 6th Man, it could easily be argued that he could have started on any NBA team, but the Thunder enjoyed using him as a “spark” to give their team new life. However, moving to Houston has given Harden the spotlight he needed to thrive as a leader.
Harden, only 24 years old, already had a great campaign last year, pulling the Rockets up from the bottom to be a contender in the league. Last season, according to ESPN, Harden averaged 25.9 points per game, fifth behind Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James.
As Derrick Rose is coming back from a season on injured reserve, he has to be in the discussion for MVP as well, but Harden can easily compete with these powerhouses, and this is reflected in his averages from last year. A slight boost in his stats from last season is all that is necessary, and this should come from his offseason improvements, finally being able to settle into the Rockets’ system as his own, and some offseason moves in Houston that will improve the team as a whole. If the Rockets turn in a top 4 seed playoff-worthy performance in the regular season with Harden at the helm, they could find success, and so could he.
Other than settling into the Rockets’ scheme a little better, what makes James Harden any better than last year? Ordinarily, he would come back and look, more or less, like the same dynamic scorer from last year. But the Rockets’ added a new piece this offseason that could push Harden over the top: Dwight Howard. Howard is an All-Star in his own right, which is exactly what Harden needs for success. Howard gives opposing teams more to focus on, taking pressure off of Harden. Giving Harden a big man down in the post should increase his assists and allow him to be more creative in his scoring opportunities since he has someone else to play off of that commands respect from defenses. In short, if Dwight lives up to the player that he can be, he is the perfect addition to Harden’s game. Harden took the Rockets to the playoffs last year, and if everything falls into place for the Harden-Howard pairing, they could be going to the finals this year.
While it may be commonplace to assume that James, Durant, or Rose will take home the trophy, James Harden is by far the underdog that can sneak up on the competition to win the title. If the perfect storm occurs for him-that is, a great scoring season, no injuries, good chemistry with Howard, and a solid supporting cast to help achieve a winning record and a high seed, Harden can easily come away with the MVP award this year. He may not be the obvious favorite, but, as always, fear the beard.