Remember when James Harden called himself the best player alive over the summer? After everyone scoffed at the notion, he did it again at an NBA 2K event we attended. No one’s laughing about that now. With the rest of the Rockets crumbling to the court around him, James has his team neck and neck with the Grizzlies for the No. 2 seed in the West.
What’s more incredible is just how consistent he’s been in an up-and-down year for teams even without Houston’s injury struggles. Beard clearly thinks he deserves the NBA’s top honor this season, as he tells Fran Blinebury of NBA.com. And yes, that’s the same reporter Harden called a “weirdo” during his first-round loss to the Blazers last season.
“I feel as though I am the MVP,” Harden said. “I think the MVP is the most valuable player to your team. Obviously you have to be winning and be one of the top teams in this league and we are.
“I’m not taking credit away from anybody else in the league. But I’ve been consistent all year. I’ve just been doing the right things to put my team in situations to win, considering all of the different circumstances we’ve had to deal with.”
We applaud this comment more than we actually support Harden’s MVP case. We’ll be writing about the MVP closer to the end of the season, but for now we just like that he’s still so confident in himself — enough to publicly say he should win the award. Similar to LeBron’s own hypothetical vote, Harden’s got the sort of ego you want in your team’s best player. None of the truly transcendent names in NBA history have ever suffered from a lack of self-confidence.
Even when it seemed like new video of Harden snoozing on defense popped up every other week last season, we doubt he ever lost the same conviction he could be the best in the world. Plus, his argument for himself is remarkably nuanced, even when he brings Stephen Curry up:
“I’m looking at all those things put together,” Harden said. “Like I said, not taking away from Steph or that team. It’s an unbelievable season that they’re having. But we’re having a pretty good season as well with all the injuries and all that we’ve been going through this season.
“Look, I understand that people can go either way with it. But for the most valuable player, I think I would have the edge.”
This is a pretty compelling case, even if Curry did the same with his play last night. We’d probably write the same if we were trying to sell readers on Harden as MVP. He did a good job shepherding a banged up team to home-court advantage in the West, something both Western Conference Finalists from last year might be unable to do.
And it’s not like Harden didn’t read the catcalls after his best player alive double affirmation last summer. He gets why it was routinely chortled about on blogs and Twitter. It’s because he hadn’t yet put together a season like this one, and there were a lot great players who people would take before Beard:
“I was surprised at the reaction…”
“It was me, K.D. and Steph and (reporters) were asking us ‘What do you bring to the table?’ I think Steph said he was the best shooter in the game, K.D. said the best scorer. I think Anthony Davis said the best shot blocker. I said the best all-around player. That’s not just scoring the basketball. It’s making plays for my teammates, etc.
“Obviously, I heard different things that different people said. But I just said how I felt. I was confident in it. I didn’t feel like it was bragging. All I had to do was go out there and play my game. And, well, that’s what I’ve done.”
Harden is a veritable MVP this season, even if he doesn’t win. His ability to lug this Houston team to where they are now — something his former teammates in Oklahoma City have struggled to do this season — is proof enough. Toss in his league-leading 27.6 points per game, and a top-10 6.9 dimes per game, and it’s harder to argue against Harden for MVP than it is simply to vote for him.
We will likely make that argument before the season ends, but we’re happy Harden is playing up to what seemed like unrealistic expectations for himself this past summer. There’s no other way to become MVP than to believe in yourself, even when no one else really does.