Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
James Harden became the newest NBA superstar this season.
The beard ages the guy, but he's still just 23 years old.
It's been one dramatic shift this year, and Harden is the league's most improved player.
Leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder where he was the the team's third option, Harden has been asked to lead the Houston Rockets each night.
His drastic statistical improvement comes with added minutes and responsibilities, but that's true of any guy turned franchise player.
Last season: 16.8 points (49 percent shooting), 4.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists in 31.4 minutes.
This season: 26.2 points (45 percent shooting), 4.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists in 38.4 minutes.
He is the league's fifth-highest scorer, as he gets to the line more than any player in the NBA, where he shoots 85.5 percent. His turnovers are too high, up to 3.7 per game, but that's natural for a player suddenly handling the ball more than ever.
If Harden doesn't deserve the award, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors does.
Curry, healthy again after two ankle surgeries since last season, is connecting on the most three-pointers (203) and doing so at the highest three-point percentage (45.5 percent).
He didn't earn All-Star recognition, but this award is deserving.