The case for 'The Beard'
By HUNTER KOSSODO
College Contributor Network
NBA MVPs fit into one of three molds. Either they are the best player on the best team, the player that means more to his squad than any player in the league means to theirs, or they are just flat out the best player and there's no debating it.
With Kevin Durant out and LeBron James having taken a two week rehab session in Miami in January, the two man race between Stephen Curry and James Harden is the most classic example of best-player-best-team versus does-everything-for-his-team we've seen in years.
In one corner there's Curry, the scoring and assist leader on a team that's two games away from being the first 67-win team since the Mavericks in 2007. He's the owner of the deadliest jump shot in the league, and combined with his crazy handles and court vision he's actually impossible to defend once he gets going.
In the other corner there's Harden, who should win MVP.
Hear me out on this.
We can make arguments until the letters on our keyboards wear off about who the better player between the two is. But it's called the Most Valuable Player award. If we gave it to whoever was strictly the best basketball player on the planet was this season, it'd go to LeBron. Instead, let's give it to the guy who carried a team on his back to over 50 wins.
No disrespect to Curry, but take him off the Warriors and they would still be a great team. Golden State sans Curry would start Shaun Livingston, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut, and would probably still be a seven- or eight-seed in the West. Take Harden away from Houston, and the Rockets wouldn't even have 30 wins.
Judging by win shares, which estimates how many wins one player contributes, it's a very close race. Harden leads the league with 15.8, and Curry is third with 15.2. Harden's number should probably be even higher.
Remember, the Rockets have had the services of Dwight Howard for just 39 games this season and Patrick Beverley for 56. Only Oklahoma City can say they've had worse luck with injuries, and because of them Harden has to do everything for this team. He leads the league in minutes played and is also tops in total points by a healthy, nearly 300 points margin. He leads all non-point guards in total assists and is right behind Curry for the most total steals.
Harden also leads the league in usage rate of players that have taken the floor in at least 70 games this season and play at least 30 minutes a game. That seems like an obscure stat, but it shows that of the players who have been healthy and relied on to lead their teams this season, Harden is leaned on the most.
Using recent history to try to find out whether best-player-best-team or does-it-all gets more MVP love doesn't make things much clearer. Durant's win last season fits more of the second criteria more than best-player-best-team as he lead the league in win shares but his Thunder were the two-seed in the West. LeBron's four MVP seasons don't decipher much because oftentimes he was the best player on the best team, the most heavily relied on player and the clear-cut best player on the planet all in one.
The last time it was evident a best-player-best-team guy was chosen was Derrick Rose in the 2010-11 season when his Bulls finished with the best record in the league despite being fifth in win shares.
While we're using past winners as a guide, here's something interesting. The player that has played the fewest minutes in an MVP season in the 59-year history that this award has been given out is Bill Walton's 33.3 minutes per game in '77-'78. Curry is playing under 33 minutes per game this season.
That's completely a facet of the Warriors being so good that Curry sits out during the second half of games a lot. No doubt Curry is a huge reason why Golden State demolishes its opponents so consistently that the point guard gets extended breathers, but fair or unfair Harden should get the credit for needing to be on the floor as much as possible for his team (he plays 36.9 minutes per game, which is tied with Kyrie Irving for second-most in the NBA).
When Curry gets hot and scores in bunches, it's a carnival-like atmosphere and it's treated like a game to see what crazy kinds of shots he can hit as his team glides to victory. When Harden gets on a scoring run, it's out of necessity.
In games when Curry has scored at least 30 points, the Warriors are 16-1 and the average margin of victory is over 12 points. When Harden scores at least 30, the Rockets go 29-5 and the point differential for Houston in those games is barely above six points.
Like I said before, when Curry gets hot it's a nice treat for the fans. When Harden gets it going, it's because his team depends solely on him to win games. They've had to, Houston's second-best player for the bulk of this season has been either Trevor Ariza or Donatas Motiejunas.
Give The Beard his due. He's improved his perimeter defending, he could bring the Rockets to the second seed in the West, and no one in the NBA has had to work harder to get their club over 50 wins than Harden.
Hunter Kossodo is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is a rabid supporter of Boston sports having lived there for most of his life. Follow him on Twitter: @HKossodo