A tough decision looms for NBA sportswriters. With the NBA regular season coming to a close in three weeks, it’s a two-man race for the league’s most valuable player and a strong argument can be made for both James Harden and LeBron James.
Harden appears to have the edge considering the great success of the Houston Rockets. Despite a challenge from the defending champion Golden State Warriors, the Rockets appear poised to finish with the best record in the league and much of the credit can fall on Harden’s shoulders.
After finishing as a runner-up to Russell Westbrook last year, Harden has been a more productive player in 2017-18. Not only is his scoring up, but his turnovers dropped from 5.7 to 4.3. Harden not only leads the league in scoring average (30.9) but he is third in assists (8.6). After years of criticism for poor defense, Harden is above his career averages this season in steals (1.8) and blocks (0.7).
Most importantly, Harden has looked particularly inspired. There had been worries that the 28-year-old may have chemistry issues with star point guard Chris Paul, who arrived in Houston in the offseason. But it didn’t take long for Harden to silence the detractors, as he dropped 27 points on the road in a 122-121 road win against the Warriors in the season opener. He has posted plenty of impressive performances, including consecutive 51-point scoring nights in back-to-back road games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers.
James is having an improved season, as well, but might be the victim of his own success. As a four-time MVP, voters may feel that James has had his fair share of moments in the sun and feel that Harden deserves his first trophy. Some voters could also point to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ struggles this season as a knock against James. The Cavs are expected to finish third in the relatively weak Eastern Conference.
However, it might be difficult to slight James. Some would argue that this is his best season under challenging circumstances. The Cavs’ have had plenty of injuries, a change at head coach and have looked out of sync after the departure of Kyrie Irving, leaving James with the sole responsibility of keeping the team in contention. The 33-year-old often seems like the only scoring option on a roster that has clearly taken a big step back from last season.
Meanwhile, James’ statistics certainly suggest he deserves the MVP. His scoring average is an excellent 27.4 and his assists average (9.1) is the highest of his career. James is also shooting a stellar 54.7 percent from the field, which is well above his career average. His 8.6 rebound average ties him for 14th in the league.
Betting site OddsShark gave Harden the edge at around the All-Star break. Harden was listed as the favorite at -290, while James was listed at +275.