James Harden deserves legitimate consideration for the 2012-13 NBA MVP award.
With 2013 just around the corner, many have begun to speculate which athlete is bound to become the league's Most Valuable Player. While the usual suspects have garnered their fair share of attention, there is an up-and-coming force to consider.
As the leader of a 16-13 franchise, Harden may not be the first name that comes to mind. After all, the likes of Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Chris Paul are posting equally as impressive numbers and leading better teams.
With that being said, we cannot allow a win-loss record to entirely determine one's value.
Keep in mind, the Houston Rockets are the youngest team in the NBA. They're also an unexpected postseason contender due to this past offseason's massive roster overhaul.
Even with the star power of Harden and Jeremy Lin, very few expected the team to make a significant impact on the structure of the postseason standings.
Regardless of their external preseason expectations, Harden has elevated the Rockets to a level of consistency.
Eight of their 13 losses have come by single-digits. Two of their defeats have come in overtime.
The question is, what makes Harden any different from the others? Much like LeBron James in 2011-12, the key is adversity.
Brand New Squad
Not only has James Harden taken the NBA's youngest team to the brink of postseason legitimacy, but he's led a team that has limited familiarity with one another. Allow this number to prove that.
Eleven of the 15 players on the Houston Rockets' roster were not with the team in 2011-12.
The players returning from a season ago are Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris and Greg Smith. To put that into perspective, Smith and Morris played a combined 25 games in 2011-12.
Parsons was a rookie, and the oft-injured Patterson had been recovering from ankle surgery (via The Houston Chronicle). Patterson started just one game.
In other words, the Rockets have started from scratch.
Is James Harden an MVP Candidate?
Houston lost five starters this offseason. As for how that is possible with Parsons returning, point guards Goran Dragic and Kyle Lowry both started in 2011-12 and found new homes for 2012-13.
Other starters lost include leading scorer Kevin Martin, locker room leader Luis Scola and starting center Samuel Dalembert.
Chase Budinger and Courtney Lee also signed elsewhere, which leaves Houston in an unparalleled predicament. Their top six leading scorers all left town.
In fact, each of their statistical leaders from 2012 are now playing for another franchise.
Dalembert led the team in rebounds and blocks. Lowry was tops in assists and steals, while Martin took control in scoring.
Marcus Camby also started 13 games and led the team in rebounds, albeit unqualified for true consideration. He's now with the New York Knicks.
To make matters worse, they've replaced the previously-listed veterans with youth. Nothing but youth.
You can thank James Harden for overcoming this massive roster overhaul.
Like it or not, the MVP award has just as much to do with one's individual statistics as it does their impact. That could be where we draw the line with the award and it becomes the "Most Outstanding Player."
Fortunately for The Bearded One, he has the numbers to contend.
Thus far in 2012-13, Harden is averaging 26.1 points, 5.4 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists. He also has four double-doubles and 10 games with at least 30 points.
Most important of all, Harden is improving with each passing game. Specifically with his shot selection.
Entering December, Harden had posted a slash line of .426/.341/.831. With two games remaining in the final month of 2012, he sits at .475/.410/.893 for December.
No matter how surprising they may be, these are numbers that Harden is capable of sustaining. It's all a matter of maintaining this approach from a shot selection standpoint.
Which brings us to his value to team success.
With and Without
With James Harden on the floor, the Houston Rockets are posting per 48 averages of 105.5 points for and 101.8 points against. Although they're struggling defensively, the Rockets are outscoring their opponent with Harden active.
The self-explanatory key to a victory.
When Harden is on the bench, however, the Rockets are averaging 101.4 points scored and 102.9 points allowed per 48. In other words, the Rockets are creating a formula for defeat when Harden is resting.
What more evidence do you need?
As it presently stands, the Rockets are 16-13 with a slight edge over the Denver Nuggets for sixth in the Western Conference. One can only imagine where the team would be without Harden, who has proven to be the star and glue guy.
Harden has the outstanding statistics to prove his individual greatness and team-specific value. What more will it take for him to receive MVP consideration?