The 2017-18 season was a historic campaign for Houston Rockets superstar James Harden, to say the least. This was the year that the 6-foot-5 guard finally got his hands on the Most Valuable Player award at the end of the season, and after what he did throughout that campaign, it’s hard to deny that he absolutely deserved the recognition.
LeBron James, who was then with the Cleveland Cavaliers, came second in the voting. He was followed by then New Orleans Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis at third. Harden was the runaway leader though, as he amassed no less than 86 first-place votes compared to LeBron’s 15. Davis did not even get a single first-place vote.
How might you ask did James Harden so convincingly won the MVP title that year? Well, that’s exactly what we expounded here.
One of the most important barometers of the MVP award is scoring. It’s true that this is only a single facet of any player’s skill set, and that the best player in the league does not necessarily have to be the top scorer. Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that this statistic probably has the biggest impact on dictating the top candidates for the MVP.
As for Harden, he absolutely dominated the scoring charts that campaign. He led the league in scoring with an average of 30.4 points per game. Interestingly, Davis came in second with 28.1 points, while LeBron rounded out the Top 3 with his 27.5 points per contest. It’s no coincidence that the three best scorers in the league that season also happen to be the three finalists for the MVP title, as it only validates our earlier point about the significance of scoring in the MVP title race.
Harden did a lot for his team other than scoring, too. That season, he averaged 8.8 dimes per game, serving as one of the team’s top playmakers. Notably, at that time, he was also playing alongside one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, who himself dished out 7.9 dimes per game. Harden’s 8.8 assists ranked third overall in the entire league, next only to Russell Westbrook (10.2) and LeBron James (9.1).
Perhaps even more important than the scoring and the assists was the fact that Harden led the Rockets to the best record in the NBA that year. Houston finished that season with a 65-17 record, even bettering the eventual champs Golden State Warriors, who won 58 games that year.
For what it’s worth, Harden was only the fourth player in league history to average at least 30 points per game on a 65-win team, joining the likes of Stephen Curry, Michael Jordan (His Airness did it twice), and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Quite the company, right?
Moreover, Harden was only the third player in Rockets franchise history to have won the award, following in the footsteps of Hakeem Olajuwon and Moses Malone (twice).
As for LeBron, who ended up second in the MVP voting, he led the Cavs to a 50-32 record for the fourth seed in the East. James averaged 27.5 points (on 54.2 percent shooting), 8.6 rebounds, 9.1 assists and 1.4 steals, while also connecting on 1.8 triples per game on a 36.7 percent clip.
Davis, who came in third, also had a tremendous year. He put up 28.1 points (on 53.4 percent from the floor), 11.1 rebounds (fifth in the league), 2.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.6 blocks (first in the league).
As a comparison, here’s how Harden’s final stat line came out that season: 30.4 points (44.9 percent shooting), 5.4 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 1.8 steals and 3.7 triples made per game (36.7 percent shooting). His 265 triples made that season was also first in the entire league. For a bit of perspective, Steph Curry made only 212 treys that season.
While the postseason performance adds no value to the regular season MVP award, it is still worth noting that Harden and the Rockets went all the way to the Western Conference Finals that year — their second trip to this stage in four years.
Houston made easy work of the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round and the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Semi-Finals, defeating these two teams 4-1 in both series. They would face off against the Warriors in the WCF and pushed the eventual champs all the way to a thrilling seven-game series.
While the season of the Rockets superstar ultimately ended in disappointment yet again, the fact that he was awarded the MVP in 2017-18 served as vindication on how James Harden was the best player in the entire league that time. Lebron or AD could have won it in any other year, but Harden proved his dominance and became the unquestionable MVP.