Is James Harden the NBA's – and the Brooklyn Nets' – MVP?
As the beard gets longer, his game gets stronger.
While we don't know that to be fact, James Harden has been putting on a master class of how to play basketball since he moved from Texas – where he was the Houston Rockets' best player – to New York – where he is the Brooklyn Nets' best player.
Yes, you read that right.
The Brooklyn Nets are currently the hottest team in the NBA, having won nine of their last 10 games with six of those victories coming on the road.
The lone constant?
You guessed it.
Harden's tenure in Houston was remarkable, highlighted by the past three seasons, where he won three consecutive scoring titles. And in 2016-17, the year before he won his first scoring title, Harden finished second in scoring (29.1) and led the league in assists (11.2).
But after a rocky start to the 2020-21 NBA season, Harden demanded his way out of Houston and his preferred landing spot was the spot he landed.
Many questioned how Harden would fit in alongside Irving and Durant, two men who need the ball in order to operate. But considering the Nets are 0.5 games behind the Philadelphia 76ers for the best record in the Eastern Conference, the team has adjusted swimmingly.
Now, the question is if anyone can deny that their ascension in the standings has been a direct result of Harden's otherworldy play – a run so impressive that some believe him to be the best player in the NBA as of today, including FOX Sports' Chris Broussard, who wants Harden to be more prominent in the MVP discussion because of the selfless approach he brought with him to Brooklyn.
"James Harden is balling. I'm not saying he's the leader [in the MVP race]. Right now it's close. It's Harden, it's Joel Embiid, it's LeBron [James] – those are the top three. ... We had questions not just about [Brooklyn's] defense, but also, 'How in the world is this gonna fit offensively?' And Harden steps in, from Day 1, and goes from like 22 shots a game in Houston to [16.7] in Brooklyn. ... And that was contagious."
On Tuesday's "Undisputed," Skip Bayless agreed with Broussard, saying that he's often flabbergasted by the ability of Harden to score and facilitate at the highest level on a nightly basis.
"Every night, I just sit back and I'm in awe of the artistry."
It might seem ludicrous to consider a guy who is on a team with two of the most prolific talents the NBA has ever seen as an MVP candidate, but Harden has served as the consistent force for the Nets since his arrival on the East Coast, with Brooklyn going 16-6 since he joined the roster.
He's played in 22 of 23 games in Brooklyn this season. Irving has missed five games since Harden's arrival and 11 games overall, and Durant has missed 13 games since Harden's arrival and 17 games overall.
Harden leads the NBA in minutes per game (37.7), and as a member of the Nets, "The Beard" is putting up 25.3 points, 11.3 assists and 8.7 rebounds while shooting 49% from the field and 41.9% from three.
He has seven triple-doubles this season – all with Brooklyn – including a masterpiece on Monday at San Antonio: 30 points, 15 assists and 14 rebounds.
After the game, Irving told the media to "get used to it" when it came to Harden's gaudy stat lines.
"When James is being James, it makes our job a lot easier. And so we gotta get used to somebody special like that, things like that in terms of breaking records. So, I can't wait to be right alongside him, my name in Nets history."
On Tuesday, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith lauded Harden's Monday masterpiece while discussing whether he or New Orleans Pelicans wunderkind Zion Williamson – who tallied 26 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a win over the Utah Jazz – had the more impressive evening.
"James Harden shows up against a San Antonio Spurs team that's not a scrub team, and this brother plays 44 minutes, drops a 30-point triple-double, shoots better than 50% from the field, better than 40% from 3-point range, and doesn't commit one single turnover.
"It doesn't get closer to perfect than that."
Still, while Harden's individual greatness is on display nightly, there is one bump in the road this season that could affect his MVP case and cause fans and voters to look at him in a negative light, and that was his exit from Houston, in which he essentially forced the Rockets' hand into shipping him to Brooklyn.
Nick Wright reminded Broussard and others of Harden's unceremonious exit on Tuesday, positing that that episode in Houston will doom any of Harden's MVP aspirations.
"We have to talk about the quitting. We have to. ... I've defended Harden his whole career [but] you can't ignore that he quit on a team."
Similar to the NBA season, the MVP race is far from over. All-Star break is on the horizon and after it, the playoff race will begin to heat up, and Durant will presumably return to the Nets' lineup, meaning some things might change on-court for Brooklyn.
But as long as Harden can score the ball, and as long as he can pass it, his presence will be felt in this league.
And as it looks today, his presence will also be felt when it comes time to pick the league's most valuable superstar come season's end.