Can James Harden win the MVP this season? Part 4

It’s a good thing the vote will not be held tomorrow.  The image of Kawhi Leonard burying a ‘3’ at one end, and then racing back to swallow up a James Harden shot attempt was a powerful one, further embodying an already pervasive narrative of the superiority of a two-way superstar.  Last night, Kawhi officially arrived in the MVP race, not just as a dark horse, but as a legitimate front-runner.

Today, I wanted to look at the on/off ratings of each of the main contenders for the award.  Its a relevant statistic because back in 2014-2015, when the case for Harden was made as doing more with less, the rejoinder provided in support of Steph Curry were his on/off numbers.  With Curry on the court, the Warriors had a net rating of +17.0.  When he sat, it fell to -0.1.  In essence, the evidence attacked the claim that the Warriors were better than the Rockets because of their superior supporting cast.

James Harden 113.7 106.9 6.7 107.4 102.1 5.2
Russell Westbrook 106.8 104 2.7 97.1 108.1 -10.9
Kawhi Leonard 113 103.7 9.3 103.8 95.6 8.2
Lebron James 113.9 106 7.9 103.2 110.5 -7.2
Isaiah Thomas 113.2 109.5 3.7 99.9 98.7 1.1
Harden (2015) 107.7 101.9 5.8 93.7 96.3 -2.6
Curry (2015) 114.2 97.2 17 100.2 100.4 -0.1

If we’re using these metrics, Lebron has the strongest case.  While the Thunder are terrible without Russell Westbrook, they’re not exactly at the top of the standings with him.  But the Cavs, who have been atop the East all season, would be a lottery team without Lebron.

This data hurts both Harden and Leonard.  The Spurs are still very good with Leonard on the bench.  And unlike 2015, the Rockets have been able to survive this season when Harden has rested.

Of course, one’s value to one’s own team, and the quality of one’s teammates, are just two of the many factors which can be taken into consideration when determining the oh-so-arbitrary Most Valuable Player Award.  But this data provides for an interesting perspective.

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About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of

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