After finishing second in the 2016-17 NBA Most Valuable Player award voting, James Harden has started the 2017-18 NBA season with a vengeance. Without Chris Paul for all but two games, Harden is averaging 31.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 10.1 assists in 16 appearances.

Along with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kyrie Irving being early season candidates for the individual award, Harden is currently leading the league in five major categories according to Josh Eberley of HOOP:

With the arrival of Paul, there were expectations Harden's numbers would take a slight dip. However, even after the nine-time All-Star returned from a knee injury against the Phoenix Suns, Harden had one of his best performances of the season with 48 points (12-of-22 shooting) and seven assists in 35 minutes.

For the Rockets, they were able to stay afloat in the highly competitive Western Conference en route to a 12-4 record, which is currently a half-game ahead of the Golden State Warriors. Should the Rockets continue to play at this high level for the remainder of the season, Harden could be in store for his first Most Valuable Player award.

While earning the award would certainly be special, Harden's focus is leading Houston to a championship. With another ball handler on the team, it will be interesting to see how a fresher Harden performs in the playoffs.