Well, I answer that question with another one: Where would the Houston Rockets be without Harden?
Not enough is made of the state of the Houston Rockets just before the Harden trade. This was an organization that had placed its fate in the hands of an unproven, untested and equivocal Jeremy Lin.
The same Lin who is averaging just 12.1 points on 42.6 percent shooting, and the same Lin without whom the Rockets actually score more points than when he's on the floor.
And yet, Houston currently finds itself in the thick of the Western Conference playoff hunt. The Rockets, a "rebuilding" team, sit four games over .500 and seem destined for eventual postseason contention.
And all because of Harden.
Not only is the shooting guard fifth in scoring at 25.9 points per game, but he and LeBron James are the only two players in the Association who are averaging at least 25 points and five assists per game.
In case you're wondering, that's the same LeBron who won the MVP award just last season. How's that for good company?
On the surface, we see Harden as a bearded scorer, but in reality, he's more. So much more.
Yes, Houston scores three more points per 100 possessions with him on the court, but the team also allows 1.8 points fewer per 100 possessions when he's on the floor as well. He grabs 1.9 steals per game (fifth in the league) and to date he's holding opposing guards to a PER of 11.4 per 48 minutes. (per 82games.com)
Simply put, Harden has done it all.
Currently, Harden is fourth in win shares (six) behind LeBron James (7.6), Chris Paul (7.7) and Kevin Durant (8.7)
Of the other three, James' shares account for 31.7 percent of Miami's victories, Durant accounts for 31.1 percent of Oklahoma City's and Paul accounts for 27.5 of the Clippers. Harden accounts for 28.6 of Houston's wins, putting him above Paul, who many (including myself) believe to be a leading MVP candidate.
Is this to say Harden is more valuable to the Rockets than Paul is to the Clippers? Or is it to imply that he's just as valuable to his team as James and Durant are to theirs?
Not at all.
But understand that when it comes to the current MVP race, Paul, James and Durant have set the standard. Their performance, their statistical impact has set the bar to which we hold all other potential candidates.
And Harden meets and arguably surpasses that bar—and not just statistically.
Not only do his numbers rival those of the aforementioned trio but so does his worth.
Again, where would Houston be without its star guard? Where would the Rockets be without his offensive production, his defensive evolution and the very leadership that was suppressed in Oklahoma City?
It’s interesting how they looked like they’d be dead for the year... Like, ‘Where is this Rockets team going?’ All of a sudden, they make the deal for James Harden. He’s totally changed their whole team and organization. I think you’d have to start talking about him as a MVP candidate for what he has done for his team and what he brings every night.
Houston wouldn't be eyeing the playoffs without Harden; it would have its eyes set on next season. This year wouldn't mean as much, it wouldn't mean anything if it wasn't for him.
So when asserting who should be considered as a league MVP, understand that Harden is to the Rockets what Paul is to the Clippers.
He's to the Houston what Durant is to Oklahoma City.
He's to the Rockets what James is to the Heat.
Like his counterparts, he's a sign of hope, a beacon of certainty and an emblem of success, thus deserving of the same respect and consideration we offer to them.
*Stats in this article are accurate as of January 12, 2013.