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Why James Harden Must Be in MVP Conversation If Rockets Make Playoffs

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Why James Harden Must Be in MVP Conversation If Rockets Make Playoffs
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In what can only be described as a stunning turn of events, the Houston Rockets acquired reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder (via Yahoo! Sports). Days later, the Rockets rewarded their new franchise player with a five-year contract extension worth $80 million (via ESPN).

Let's just say that Harden proved to be worth the money during the Rockets' season-opener.

In a Halloween showdown with the Detroit Pistons, The Bearded One led the Rockets to a 105-96 victory on the road. Harden put up MVP-caliber totals of 37 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, four steals and one block.

The question is, was this an MVP-caliber evening or a sign of things to come?

It would be absurd to estimate Harden averaging  37 points and 12 assists per game. In fact, it's more likely than not that Harden never posts those numbers again.

What can be taken from this performance, however, is that Harden is indeed ready to lead a franchise. Masked by the brilliance of ex-teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook was how dominant Harden can be when in the game.

As fans of the Detroit Pistons will tell you, he can take over in ways that most will only dream of.

With this being established, there is strong reason to believe that Harden is in store for his second consecutive postseason award. This time around, however, it will not be the Sixth Man of the Year hardware that Harden takes home.

If the Houston Rockets make the playoffs, James Harden must be in the conversation for Most Valuable Player.

 

Would James Harden be an MVP candidate if the Houston Rockets made the postseason?

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Unexpected Success

Entering the 2012-13 regular season, the Houston Rockets were expected to be a non-factor in the playoff hunt. In fact, the Rockets were viewed as nothing more than a team in competition for the first overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.

By trading for James Harden, however, the Rockets may very well become a postseason contender. And no, the acquisition of Cole Aldrich does not play a role in that progression.

Alongside Harden is the equally as stellar but unproven Jeremy Lin. The starting lineup is rounded out by the likes of Chandler Parsons, Marcus Morris and Omer Asik.

The upside is there, but would you really want anyone besides Harden or Lin shooting the ball when it matters most? If you would, the Rockets should be thankful you aren't running their organization.

Had the Phoenix Suns had made the postseason in 2012, the same argument could have been made for Steve Nash. The difference here is that Harden is not only a well-rounded player, but a legitimate threat to compete for the scoring title.

James Harden may be an elite scorer, but don't think he's limited to said production.

 

Adoring the Fresh Faces... Or Beards

What does this have to do with the eventual MVP? Everything.

Since the award was first created in 1955, the winner of the NBA's Most Valuable Player award has been one of the most marketable figures in the league. 2011 winner Derrick Rose offers a perfect example of such.

Rose went from a popular young face to the league MVP, posting averages of 25.0 points and 7.7 assists per game. One year earlier, Dwyane Wade averaged 26.6 points and 6.5 assists but finished just fifth in the MVP voting (via NBA).

Not so coincidentally, Rose became the most marketable player in the NBA during his MVP campaign that fans outside of Chicago continue to debate (via NBA.com)

The NBA MVP voters love an underdog. They also adore fresh faces who could potentially become the poster child of the league.

Who better to fill said role than the ever-so marketable James Harden? With the fiercest beard in the business and an elite set of skills, there doesn't seem to be a hole in Harden's campaign.

Just a furry defense against the criticism resting on his face.

 

Offensive Award

During the 2012-13 NBA season, James Harden ranked 22nd in the league in terms of points per 48 minutes at 25.8. He also ranked sixth amongst perimeter players in terms of field goal percentage at 49.1.

In other words, had Harden averaged more than his 10.1 field goal attempts per game, he would have been in competition for the scoring title.

With the Rockets, Harden can be expected to flirt with 20 shot attempts per contest. There is no player more reliable on the roster than Harden, who has displayed the necessary killer instinct to take over as his talents would enable.

A killer instinct that will help him go from a star in Oklahoma City to "the man" in Houston.

With the scoring title in sight and his well-rounded nature as a facilitator and defender, the stat sheet should be stuffed. His 37 point, 12 assist, six rebound, four steal and one block performance in the season-opener offers evidence for such a claim.

As we've come to learn, that is oftentimes enough for MVP consideration.

Since Steve Nash won two consecutive MVP awards in 2005 and 2006, it has become clear where this award is headed. Although LeBron James is a well-rounded player who thrives  off of his defensive versatility, his awards are clearly based off of his scoring, rebounding and assist numbers.

Other winners such as Derrick Rose and Dirk Nowitzki back said claim up. They also offer insight into just what type of player wins MVP.

The exact type of player that James Harden has proven to be.

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