Can James Harden win the MVP this season? Part 3

Even though he is currently the favorite, I’m right now struggling to overcome the paranoia that somehow in the end, James Harden will be robbed of this year’s MVP award.  I’m still suffering from the traumatic experience of watching him have the 2015 award stolen away.  This is the fear which survivors live with.  Because James Harden absolutely was robbed of the 2015 MVP – I will argue that point until my very last breath, and even more fervently with every historic performance exhibited by Klay Thompson or Draymond Green.

The no-brainer choice as the frontrunner would be Russell Westbrook not just because you can see him obliterating every usage and shot attempt record in existence, but also because if the Thunder have any degree of success this year, the media will be all over the narrative.  Durant and Curry would seem to cancel each other out and I see Lebron taking an even greater step back to save himself for the stretch run.  Anthony Davis would be a natural choice if the Pelicans could manage to not be horrible, leaving you with just Chris Paul and Blake Griffin who will both be injured for extended periods.

As I wrote above, on August 24, Westbrook has taken this opportunity to not-so-efficiently take his game to greater heights, Curry and Durant have canceled each other out, and Chris Paul and Blake Griffin both have missed extended time due to injury.  But while Lebron hasn’t had the stratospheric numbers we’re accustomed to, with the Cavaliers crippled by injury, one can really see James taking his game to another level in the second half and reminding the rest of the league of his place at the top of the totem pole.  Lebron also has narrative on his side – we forgot about him last year, and he slayed Goliath.  Do we reward him now for his postseason heroics?  I also previously had not accounted for dark horses like Kawhi Leonard or Isaiah Thomas, the former of whom I seriously fear might steal the award.

I wrote on February 6:

At the time of writing, just five losses separate the Rockets from the Thunder, with Houston occupying the third seed and the Thunder sitting at seventh.  If Houston drops below fourth, that’s it for Harden.  Similarly, if the Rockets stay in third, and the Thunder climb to fourth, (or maybe even fifth depending on the number of games that separate the teams), it will be Westbrook’s award.

Today, Houston still sits at third with Oklahoma City at seventh, and with 7.5 games separating the two teams.  But I’m no longer as fearful of Westbrook as I am the field.  I fear Harden has peaked too soon, but that could be the paranoia speaking.  The Rockets cannot afford another month like their disastrous January.






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Just two games this week, and not even until Thursday, against the lowly Pelicans and Timberwolves.  I’d have felt comfortable back in December already tallying these two into the win column ahead of time, but with the Rockets’ shaky play since January, no game is safe.  Wednesday’s loss to the Heat doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

I mistakenly referred to Charlotte as New Orleans, two weeks ago, previewing a Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones reunion.  That will actually be this week.

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The Rockets were five games up on Utah for the third seed, and three games back of the Spurs for the second seed, this time last week.  The lead now is four over the Clippers, with a four game deficit to the Spurs.  Like I said last week, while they had gotten to within 2.5 games of the Spurs, barring an unexpected injury to Kawhi Leonard, I think the Spurs are probably safe in second.  And it looks like the Clippers and Jazz will continue trading places the rest of the way, or at least until Chris Paul returns from injury.  Lastly, as of today, the Rockets would need to go 20-4 the rest of the way to win 60 games, something which is very likely to not happen.  Bummer.  That would have been fun.






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I looked at league-wide lineup data yesterday, finding that, to no one’s surprise, several of Houston’s five-man units ranked among the best in the league.  What was interesting, however, was that certain players seemed interchangeable among the top lineups.  So I decided to dive in this morning on Houston’s intra-team lineup data.

For lineups with at least 100 minutes played, the Rockets’ best unit in the first half was Anderson/Ariza/Gordon/Harden/Harrell, with a net rating of +19.8 in 168 minutes.  That lineup also had the team’s best offensive rating for lineups with at least 100 minutes, posting a rating of 125.8.

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Remembering Otis Thorpe

Former Rocket Otis Thorpe was in the house on Wednesday night to be honored as part of the franchise’s 50th anniversary celebration.  While I only got to enjoy half a year of Thorpe before he was dealt to Portland, in the post-Barkley years (or even during, some might argue), Thorpe’s legacy lived on in the minds of Rockets fans as the symbol of the prototypical power forward.

When the Rockets announced their All-90’s team in 2012, I thought it was a complete travesty that that team did not include Thorpe who, while traded before the second title run, was an anchor on the frontline next to Olajuwon through the early 90’s.  When I talked to Robert Horry during press availability at the event, I made sure to make mention of the man with whom he shared the forward spot for 2.5 years.

While the sentiment is appreciated, the comparison above is quite a bit off.  Aside from physique, there isn’t really much similarity between Thorpe and Blake Griffin.  Still, while Thorpe’s breed today is extinct, its important to remember that he was the standard among non-stars at the position during his era.






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I last looked at lineup data for the Rockets on November 23, before Patrick Beverley had fully immersed into the rotation:

Lineup data will drastically shift with Beverley’s inclusion going forward, but thus far, here’s what we have: the lineup of Anderson, Ariza, Capela, Gordon, and Harden has a net rating of +18.3 in 154 minutes played!  That quintet is second to only the Clippers lineup of Griffin, Jordan, Moute, Paul, and Redick, among league lineups having played at least 150 minutes.  For comparison’s sake, Golden State’s best heavy minute lineup is Curry, Durant, Green, Pachulia, and Thompson, producing a +11.4 net rating in 164 minutes played.

That same quintet of Anderson, Ariza, Capela, Gordon, and Harden, with an offensive rating of 117.8, is tops in the league among groups with over 100 minutes of shared court time.  That’s better than the Clippers and better than the Warriors.  The Houston Rockets’ starting lineup was really good.

Among quintets with at least 150 minutes of playing time, Houston’s best unit features Anderson, Ariza, Gordon, Harden, and Harrell, good for fifth in the league with a net rating of +19.8.  That’s an even better net rating than the one that was produced by the Anderson/Ariza/Capela/Gordon/Harden quintet which was second in the league at the time on November 23.  That the rank has dropped probably shouldn’t come as too great a surprise as the Warriors, as expected, have rounded into form, with two of their units occupying the top slots.  The Cavalier unit of Irving/James/Liggins/Love/Thompson leads the league in net rating for units with over 150 minutes played with a whopping net rating of +28.3.  Just above the Rockets at fourth is a Wizards unit at +22.0.  My greatest surprise here is the inclusion of Harrell over Capela, though I suspect some of that production coincides with Houston’s ruthless December when Capela was partially sidelined and Houston feasted on opponents.

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