James Harden hasn’t scored fewer than 30 points in a game since Dec. 11. He averaged a mind-blowing 43.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, 7.6 assists, and 2.1 steals per game in January, to go along with a 60.9 true shooting percentage. The Houston Rockets are 21-9 since his 30-point streak began, the third-best record in the league over that timeframe, despite star point guard Chris Paul and impactful two-way center Clint Capela missing significant chunks of the action.
Is Harden, then, a shoo-in to win a second consecutive MVP award? Not quite. Austin Rivers, though, can’t seem to understand why, especially because his by-example style of leadership is resonating so much with teammates:
“We go as James goes. That’s no secret,” Rivers said, per The Athletic’s Alykhan Bijani. “Obviously, he’s playing the best basketball in the league and that’s not even a debate. I don’t even know how the MVP thing is a debate anymore after what the fuck he’s been doing. We’re gonna go as he goes, ultimately. I think he doesn’t really have to lead in terms of vocal. You leave that to other guys. He does everything else.”
By the raw numbers, Harden should be the MVP frontrunner far and away. A player averaging 36.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 7.8 assists still seems more like a fantasy than something we’re watching in real time. There’s also a historical double standard of sorts when it comes to Harden’s counting stats; who could forget when he missed out on All-NBA in 2015-16 despite going for 29.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 7.5 assists a night?
James Harden is indeed the MVP favorite. Considering both narrative and the two-way dominance displayed on a game-by-game basis by Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George, though, it makes sense why he doesn’t have the award wrapped up quite yet.