The Houston Rockets are back.
Well, somewhat (their defense is still pedestrian, even during the recent hot streak). They have won 8-of-9 and pushed back into a playoff position on the back of an elite offense — one carried by James Harden. Harden is averaging 40.5 points a night in the past eight games. That has pushed his per-game average up to 32.7, best in the NBA by a healthy margin. He leads the league in three pointers made, is third in PER (28.7), and is sixth in win shares.
Does that put Harden in the MVP conversation?
It does if you ask Harden, which is what Tim Bontemps of ESPN did.
“I mean, yeah. Of course I should be in that conversation,” Harden said… “I mean, I receive a lot of hate, but it won’t stop me from going out there and killing every single night, being that dog that I am.
“You can name a few other people that should be in the conversation. But realistically? It’s coming back.”
He’s right. Harden should be in the conversation, but he’s not at the top of the list.
Giannis Antetokounmpo appears to be the current frontrunner, after that put Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, and Kevin Durant in whatever order you want. Harden is part of that group. He got off to a slow start, and while his offensive numbers have rebounded there is the other end of the court — last season he played decent defense, this season he has been a problem opponents attack again.
There more than half a season to go and the race will evolve and shake out. It always does. Fortunes will rise and fall.
Harden needs to be part of the MVP conversation. But he has a long way to go, and a lot of people to leap, to repeat as winner.