When it’s all said and done, there’s only one individual NBA honor that matters, and this year, everyone knew who deserved it most. James Harden claimed the league’s Most Valuable Player of the Year award on Monday after leading his Houston Rockets to a franchise-best 65-win record that doubled as the best win total in the NBA.
He averaged a career-high 30.4 points, 8.8 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game to lead Houston to the Western Conference Finals, where they fell one game (and one fateful hamstring injury) short of dethroning the Golden State Warriors for a trip to the NBA Finals. He beat out LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who were runners-up for the award.
Harden’s season was defined by his vicious handles, uncanny court vision and an ability like none other to put the ball in the basket. He scored 60 points against Orlando, 56 against the Jazz, and 51 points in back-to-back games against both the Clippers and the Lakers. Harden also committed theft on live television when he snatched Wesley Johnson’s ankles, then stared him down on the floor before drilling a step-back three that sent the Staples Center — and the rest of the world — into mass hysteria. It was a moment that doubled as the NBA’s play of the year, and one that also served as the most memorable of his MVP campaign.
For Harden, the award is the validation he’s deserved for years. He was voted MVP by his peers in the first-ever player awards in 2015, but the official league award had evaded him for years. This season was his third time finishing in the top-two for MVP voting. Finally, The Beard has been given his credit.
Still, the Rockets fell just short in the playoffs after Chris Paul missed Games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference, and still, Houston will have to put the pieces back together to try their hand at dethroning the Warriors yet again next season. But so long as Harden is in Rockets red, Houston is in good hands. He’s the league’s Most Valuable Player. The deed has finally been done.