One day, James Harden will no longer be considered second-best.
Up until a few weeks ago, it was almost certain to be this season, but Anthony Davis has other plans, it appears.
On Thursday, the NBA announced that Davis was named the Western Conference Player of the Month for February, and it certainly is difficult to argue with the decision. His 35 points, 13 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 2.2 block per-game averages were incredibly impressive.
More importantly, though, is the numbers were inspiring.
Even without DeMarcus Cousins, Davis managed to lead the Pelicans to an 8-3 record and, improbably, to within striking distance of the third seed in the Western Conference.
First, it was the rise of Stephen Curry and his Golden State Warriors in 2015, then, it was Russell Westbrook’s averaging a triple-double in 2017. In each of those years, Harden finished second in MVP voting, much to the chagrin of a great many of The Beard’s supporters.
Now, if Davis manages to continue doing what he’s been doing, he might have a shot at stealing some MVP votes away from Harden, and truth be told, the fact that we’re even mentioning that as a possibility is a travesty.
Sure, what Davis has done is incredible, but it’s probably not more incredible than what Harden has been doing… for the entire season.
If the NBA’s MVP award was a doled out to the superstar on any sort of cumulative basis, one could have made the argument that, even before the season began, Harden “deserved” to win the award based on what he’s accomplished with the Rockets over the past few years.
Aside from his masterful production, the only recurring theme in H-Town over the years has been that Harden has made a habit of doing more with less.
Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Jason Terry, Corey Brewer, Terrance Jones, Donatas Montiejunas, Marcus Thornton, Patrick Beverly and Lou Williams are but a few of the players who have come and gone, and they’ve mostly been replaced by players who were thought to be too old, too slow, or too one-dimensional to help make a difference.
Harden has capably and admirably led them, anyway.
Heading into the season, there were a fair amount of people (including yours truly) who felt that Harden and Chris Paul would struggle to figure out how to play together. Paul was a master at playing with the ball in his hands and excelling in midrange shooting situations. Harden played best with the ball, though, and the Rockets shoot threes in volume.
Amazingly, we’ve gone from having doubts about whether Harden and Paul could excel alongside one another to doing what we did to Kevin Durant when he teamed up with Stephen Curry—downgrade the extent to which we allow ourselves to be impressed with him because of who he has flanking him.
What makes that most incredible, though, is the fact that those who tout Davis as somehow stealing Harden’s thunder overlook what the expectations were for the Rockets coming into this season. For the most part, they weren’t high.
Conversely, the expectation for the Warriors was, in a word, dominance. In two words, it would have probably been “sheer dominance.”
Yet remarkably, with just 21 games left in the regular season, it is those Warriors who happen to be looking up at Harden’s Rockets.
When it comes to presenting facts and laying out an argument, we often tend to focus exclusively on things that transpired to make our case.
James Harden scored 30 points last night…
Chris Paul dished out 14 assists on Wednesday…
Seldom do we pay enough attention to things that didn’t happen, but the fact that some expected event didn’t occur is actually a notable fact, as well.
Case in point: the 18 games that Paul missed earlier this season. Paul didn’t play, but, for the most part, the Rockets didn’t suffer.
Wanna know why?
Simple: James Harden.
Entering play on March 1, Harden’s 31.3 points per game is a career high. It also happens to be tops in the entire NBA.
Consider something else: since Harden joined the Rockets, he’s never had a teammate average as many as 20 points per game. One could look at it as an indictment on him, sure, but it’s difficult to argue that a man that has averaged 8.6 assists per game over the past four years and one that led the league in assists last season is nearly “too selfish” to be the primary building block for a true contender.
So yes, pardon me while I express my approval for Harden having his best shooting season since 2014 despite the fact that he’s taking about 25 percent more shots this season than he did back then.
Don’t get me wrong, what Anthony Davis has done (and is doing) with the Pelicans is tremendous. But as someone who has done nothing but doubt Harden and his ability to help his Rockets become a contender—much less the best team in the conference in which the Warriors reside—take it from me, Harden has been there and done that.
If the Pelicans were to secure the third seed and the Rockets fall off a cliff and finish second, there might be a case to be made for Davis over Harden as the league’s MVP.
But until then, let’s be real, Harden has been the MVP all season long.
After falling short in two of the last three seasons, he’s due, and unfortunately for Davis, a few hot months won’t resonate more than Harden’s scorching season.
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