NBA MVP Award: James Harden vs LeBron James

Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images

As several games are left to play in the NBA regular season, the MVP Award discussion is heating up. 2016-2017 season’s MVP race was a competition between James Harden and Russell Westbrook. This season we also are watching some kind of duel just this time instead of Westbrook we have LeBron James.

James Harden, according to basketball-reference.com, has a 71.8% probability of winning the NBA Most Valuable Player trophy of the 2017-2018 season. Meanwhile LeBron James goes behind Harden with 7.4%. Comparing just these numbers the difference between Harden and James looks enormous. Is James Harden actually so good and LeBron has no chance to win MVP this year? Let’s look at both players’ achievements during 2017-2018 regular season.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

James Harden, Houston Rockets

Without any doubts James Harden is having a spectacular season. Harden with 31 points per game is a scoring leader in the league and ranks third next to Russell Westbrook and LeBron James with 8.8 assists.

Speaking about historical comparisons – Harden might reach tremendous achievement by joining Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and Russell Westbrook – the players who averaged at least 30.0 points, 8.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game in a single season (Scott Rafferty).

All these numbers Harden is putting up playing in the best team so far. At 63-15 the Houston Rockets already overtook legendary 1993-1994 Rockets team which became champions that year.

Thinking about Harden’s possibility to win the MVP trophy – chances are higher than ever before. In 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons he was the second in MVP elections and lost just to Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook, respectively.

Despite his offensive stats, which was always impressive since the moment he became a Rockets member, what really makes Harden the MVP – his changed attitude towards work ethic on the court.

Firstly, before this regular season Harden was known as a weak defender – he gave small amount of effort to stop his opponents. But this season everything changed dramatically – now he is 47th in the NBA in defensive win shares, just behind Andre Igoudala, Jimmy Butler and Steven Adams – players who are solid defenders (George Klein).

Secondly, Harden had a reputation of a player who lacked connection with other team members. Even former Rockets coach Kevin McHale said that “James Harden is not a leader”. No longer. Now we see a different view on the court – Harden become a true leader, who not only leads his team, but also makes his colleagues much better players all the time.

Speaking about Rockets newcomer and future Hall of Fame Chris Paul, many basketball analysts thought that Paul and Harden would have trouble sharing a ball. But now we see that those speculations were invalid – both players have no problems with meshing together and sharing a ball. Paul and Harden both averaging 17 assists and they complement one another perfectly. Overall they have become one of the best point guards pair in NBA.

To sum up, if James Harden stays healthy and Rockets continue their historic season, there will be no barriers for Harden to win this season’s MVP trophy.

USA TODAY Sports

Photo: USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

Despite the fact that a four-time league MVP LeBron James is already 33-years-old veteran, he is the only player who could beat James Harden in the MVP race.

When asked about his possibilities to win the trophy James wasn’t very humble: “The body of work, how I’m doing it, what’s been happening with our team all year long, how we’ve got so many injuries and things of that nature, guys in and out, to be able to still keep this thing afloat, I definitely would vote me”.

As always James’s stats look impressive – the three-time NBA champion is averaging 27.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 1 block and 54.2 field goal percentage. Although James is demonstrating solid numbers his team’s play and especially during the first part of the season was quite fluctuating – first of all due to the permanent problems with players’ injuries.

Secondly, at the trade deadline Cavaliers changed almost half of their roster. And finally, Cavs showed terrible defensive efforts. With newcomers – Larry Nance JR, Rodney Hood, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson – team looks much better, but still without LeBron James Cavaliers “would be swimming in the miasma of the middle of the Eastern Conference” (Teddy Cutler). At this moment Cavs’ good play is especially important for keeping them in the third place of Eastern Conference.

Speaking about James’ personal achievements past month and a half shows who LeBron James really is – since February 7th, James is averaging a triple-double with 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 10.1 assists per game. During this period Cavaliers have won 15 of their 22 games.

James already did his 49th double-double (fifth-most in the league) of the season. He also overtook Kevin Garnett (1,859 steals) for 17th place on the NBA’s all-time steals list and break Michael Jordan’s (866) double-digit (at least 10 points) scoring record after getting his 867th double-digit.

Asked about this series James said: “I’ve stayed available, obviously” – “I haven’t played every game, but for the most part I’ve played over 70 percent of my games throughout that journey, and just going out and just trying to be productive” (nba.com).

Another tremendous moment of this season for James – he is the first player who scored 30,000 points, 8,000 rebounds, 8,000 assists. We can’t forget that King James with 17 triple-doubles goes second just after Russel Westbrook (24).

To sum up, despite the fact that LeBron James is already a legend his chance to win the 2017-2018 MVP award is quite weak. All voters understand that LeBron is probably the best player of all time and he deserves the MVP award almost every season, but at the same they could be a little bit tired voting for James.

Lastly, the Cleveland Cavaliers already have 30 defeats – too many that their member could win the MVP (last year Westbrook played almost alone), meanwhile LeBron’s main opponent – James Harden – plays in the best team this season so far.