James Harden added another 40 point game to the bio and barring Giannnis Antetokounmpo thiefdom, Harden will win back-to-back MVP’s. Sounds luxurious and special until you consider the great players who have never won two MVP’s: Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Julius Erving. The list goes on and on. Winning MVP multiple times doesn’t suddenly vault you into most important or best ever. It just means you dominated in back-to-back seasons. When you look at the James Harden team and not the James Harden singular award, it is a reminder of another Mike D’Antoni team: the Phoenix Suns.
Like Harden’s Rockets, the Suns had a back-to-back MVP winner in Steve Nash. And like the Rockets, the Suns never made it to the NBA Finals. Steve Nash is a Hall of Famer like James Harden will be a Hall of Famer. But all of that Nash brilliance could not be translated into a championship ring.
Nash didn’t rack up the points like Harden is doing but he did rack up the assists and he inspired a young Steph Curry to improve his handles, to dribble and score, and forget about size. Nash and 7 Seconds or Less revolutionized the NBA. They were the first to drain long distance jumpers. But as good as they were, they could never beat the San Antonio Spurs. As good as the Rockets are, they can’t beat the Golden State Warriors.
Everyone who matters understands that James Harden’s streak- impressive as it is- is short lived. Once the playoffs come around, Harden is going to have to play the team game and no one is going to care about his 30 ppg streak.
In the present, his streak is so lengthy, by the nature of his own brilliance, James Harden has made 30 points irrelevant. Accidentally, Harden has dumbed down dropping 30. It’s kind of boring now and expected. Harden got 30? Okay. Whatever.
Steve Nash dribbled and shot his way into NBA excellence by being efficient all of the time, spacing the floor, delivering the perfect pass and finishing. But in the playoffs, the book on Nash was to get physical, not just with him, but with the entire Suns team. Interrupt their timing and slow the game down. In other words, play defense.
The Spurs played defense on the Rockets in the playoffs two years ago and James Harden was awful in a closeout game 6. He only took 9 shots for an 18%, what?, and 22% from three. He had a -28 for the game. Last year, in a closeout game 7 against the Warriors, he took more shots, 29, but only shot 15% from three.
This is James Harden’s 10th year in the league and the most physically taxing on him where he has had to do just about everything because of injuries and an incomplete roster. His usage rate of 40.2 is the second highest in league history. Only Russell Westbrook’s inaugural no Kevin Durant season is higher. It won Westbrook the MVP but not much else.
Just for the record, the top-5 usage rates: Westbrook, Harden, Kobe Bryant, Westbrook, Harden, were interesting to watch in the regular season but didn’t result in a NBA Finals appearance. The next 6 in usage rate didn’t get to the Finals either. Number 12 on the list, Allen Iverson, made it to the Finals but only won 1 game in the series vs. the Lakers. The top 20 players in usage rate has AI as their only Finals rep.
So this is a dying dream for James Harden, if championships matter. From Kobe to MJ to dude on the street, all have chimed in on what the truth is.
In Steve Nash’s 10th year he was brilliant and won his second MVP. He had a game against the Knicks with 22 assists and his offensive rating for that year was 121. It was Nash’s 50-40-90 season and his second MVP. But he lost in the Western Conference Finals in 6 games to the Dallas Mavericks.
It feels as if we are watching the same movie twice, as if the groundhog saw his shadow, and it will be winter for James Harden over and over again. He’ll get his MVP but that will be all he will get. A one man show loses steam and fan interest sometime in May.