James Harden Proved He’s Not Who We Thought He Was

James Harden
James Harden” by Erik Drost is licensed under CC BY 2.0

James Harden is one of the finalists to win the MVP award this season. The award is given to the most valuable player during the regular season, which is why Harden is a finalist. He averaged 30.4 points per game on 44.9% shooting and 36.7% three point shooting, 5.4 rebounds, 8.8 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. To go along with that, Harden led his team to the best record in the league. Put that all together and you’ve got yourself some MVP stats and a strong case for James Harden to be the MVP, but in my mind he’s lost all credibility to be the considered the Most Valuable Player.

An MVP is a player who has the best overall performance during the course of the season. Harden may have done that over the course of the regular season, but the playoffs was a different story. Harden pretty much disappeared when it mattered most. Of the regular season stats listed above for Harden, the only stat he improved during the playoffs was steals (2.2). Harden performed worse in every other category.

Since the Western Conference Finals just wrapped up, let’s take a look at his stats in that series. Harden averaged 28.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 2.1 steals. How does this make Harden lose MVP credibility? Well let’s focus on his scoring average. Yes, Harden averaged an MVP worthy 28.7 points per game, but Harden shot 41.5% from the field and 24.4% from three point range. This means Harden took more shots to average less points than he did in the regular season.

Harden wasn’t an MVP in the playoffs at all, but instead he was a detriment to his team. “Well Chris Paul was out, which is why the Rockets lost.” Maybe this is true. Maybe the Rockets would be heading to the NBA Finals right now if Chris Paul hadn’t been hurt for the last two games, but that doesn’t excuse the horrendous play of James Harden.

When you think of an MVP player, who comes to mind first? For me, it’s players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Could you imagine what the sports world would be saying about LeBron James right now if he had shot 41.5% from the field and 24.4% from three point range and lost to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals? Just about everyone would be ripping him apart right now. Same goes for Kevin Durant.

This situation is more comparable to LeBron James than Kevin Durant because James doesn’t have three other all-stars on his team. LeBron has Kevin Love and Harden has Chris Paul. Without Chris Paul, the Rockets lost to the Warriors. Without Kevin Love, the Cavs beat the Celtics. If LeBron had lost to the Celtics, would anyone have let the loss of Kevin Love be a valid excuse? Not a chance. When you’re supposed to be an MVP caliber player, you don’t fall apart when things get tough. You can’t disappear, especially when you’re playing in the biggest game of the season so far. James Harden does not get a free pass.

Because the MVP award is based on the regular season, James Harden will likely be the MVP, but after what I saw from him throughout the playoffs when his team needed him most, I can’t justify him winning the award. To take even more credibility away from Harden, this isn’t the first time his performance has dipped from the regular season to the playoffs. Last season, most notably against the San Antonio Spurs in the second round, Harden disappeared. If Harden actually played well and still lost, this would be a different story, but he didn’t play well at all. MVP’s don’t take a step back in the biggest moments, but James Harden does.

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