When James Harden was asked if he felt like he was in the conversation for MVP by a reporter after the game, the already one-time MVP responded by saying, “I feel like I am the MVP.”
Here’s James Harden tonight when asked if he belongs in the MVP conversation: “I feel like I am the MVP” pic.twitter.com/2D6cKn7xp8
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) March 27, 2021
The fact is that Harden is playing the best version of basketball in his life, and that is including his MVP season and a season in which he averaged 36.1 points per game.
If you listen to that entire clip, the thing that stands out the most is at the very end where Harden says:
“Games are different, and I take what the defense gives me. In the next game, we might get more lops than shots. Just play the right way and be efficient in doing that.”
Harden has adapted to how teams play him on defense, playing a different style each game. Compared to his time with the Houston Rockets, in which it was shot-first, isolation plays all season long, leading to his team’s suffering when it came to the playoffs.
He is only scoring 26 points per game but averages 11.2 assists, with 8.2 rebounds, and has the highest Effective Field Goal Percentage of his career at 55%.
Harden is doing everything on the court at an efficient level leading the NBA in assist. Harden has reached a new level of play because he is finally on a team that plays to every one of his skill sets.
As we all already know, the three-time scoring champ was a scoring champ for a reason. Harden can score with ease by drilling step-back threes that open up the driving lane because defenses are so scared that he will pull up in your face. Harden can toy with a defense till he finds the shot he wants to take and then drill it, or he will draw contact and work his way to the free-throw line. Now, this aspect of Harden’s game has kind of stayed the same since coming to the Brooklyn Nets, having a True Shooting Percentage of 62%, tying for the third-highest in his career, but his Effective Field Goal Percentage is the best it has ever been.
However, this impressive efficiency could be because he is averaging the fewest number of shots per game since the 2014-2015 season, at just 16.8 shots a game. This could be because Harden is playing with two players, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who are equally as talented as him on offense.
Still, also, he has transitioned into a point guard, focusing first on making plays for others, and that has been the aspect that has opened his game up to a whole different level.
Harden’s passing and basketball IQ is what has unlocked him into playing the best basketball of his career. Now Harden, since the 2014-2015 season, has averaged at least or more than seven assists per game, which is already pretty high. He even led the league in assist in the 2016-2017 season averaging 11.2. This season Harden is once again averaging 11.2 assists and 11.4 in his 32 games with the Nets. Based on his stats, he has stayed around the same as a passer, but the quality of passing and the way he gets his assists are different this season. In his last few seasons with the Houston Rockets, many of Harden’s assists came off him creating for himself, such as driving and drawing a double team and passing it out to a shooter in the corner or a lop pass, too an open big.
Now, those assists are still there every game, Harden draws so much attention to himself when he drives, and Bruce Brown, Joe Harris, Jeff Green, DeAndre Jordan, and Nicolas Claxton have all benefited from open three or open lops at the rim. The new thing that Harden has been able to do is to stand at the top of the key and pick out open passing lanes without even taking a dribble, and that is something new in his game. Harden will take the ball at the top of the key, then wait for Harris, Durant, or Irving to run off a screen for an easy jumper, or find Brown, Green, Jordan, Claxton, and now Blake Griffin for open layups, who run off the screens they are setting.
A lot of this is because Harden is just on a better team that unlocks this new play style.
Unlike in Houston, the Nets players are all decent off-ball, and Harden’s teammates no longer stand around waiting for him to make a move. On top of that, Nets Head Coach Steve Nash is one of the best passers in NBA history and is undoubtedly sharing some of his knowledge with Harden. Harden is officially thinking past first and consistently moves and passes before the defense can even realize what is happening.
Harden has shown to be extremely valuable to the Nets and has unlocked a new level that the team would not have reached without him. Along with Durant and Irving constantly missing games this season, that has led to Harden being the main guy in most games, and it does serve as a plus for Harden in the MVP race.
The fact remains that before Harden was traded to the Nets, the team was on its way to being one of the best offensive teams in NBA history, and Harden makes it probably the best, and how much will MVP voters value that?
Does Harden raise the Nets ceiling so much that he surpasses Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, or Damian Lillard, who elevate their teams to a different level?
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