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James Harden: ‘I feel like I am the MVP’

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James Harden said the quiet part out loud. After dropping 44 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 assists in 42 minutes to help the Brooklyn Nets win a 113-111 nail-biter over the Detroit Pistons, “The Beard” made it known how he felt about his performance thus far in the 2020-2021 season.

“I feel like I am the MVP.” said Harden, cool as can be. “It’s just that simple.”

His approach is exactly that, simple; He’s a teammate-focused superstar figure who takes what the defense gives him. Harden’s mind is always with the best interests of the guys who share a similar jersey.

“I just try and go out there every single night and give my teammates everything that I can bring to the game,” explained Harden, whose 11.2 assists per game lead the league.

Much has been written about Harden’s stylistic makeover this season——from a historically dominant isolationist in Houston to a supreme orchestrator of the best offense in the association as a Net.

He’s become a more efficient player and his 46.8% field goal percentage in Brooklyn would be his best shooting accuracy since his days as a bench player in Oklahoma City. Meanwhile, his 25.4 points per game is his lowest scoring mark since his second season in Houston way back in 2013-2014. Again, he’s altered his offensive approach in pursuit of a title alongside two other historically great offensive players in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. With the Nets having the third-best record in the Association, thus far that approach has paid dividends.

“He just makes the game so easy for you,” explained Harden’s new teammate of just three games, Blake Griffin. “And draws so much attention. At the same time, you look at his assist numbers——they’re unbelievable as well. Playing against him, it was always kind of one of those things where you hope to slow him down. And now playing with him, you really appreciate playing with guys like that because most of my shots are just ‘be ready,’ and he does a great job of finding you. It’s not something I take for granted.”

Harden’s long been appreciated for his scoring outbursts——the step-back threes, the generationally proficient deceleration tactics, the distinctive foul-drawing, and his blossoming in-between game which features a flip-shot floater that’s maybe never been better.

And now, the NBA at large is finally catching up to the sheer magnitude of Harden’s playmaking. His lob tosses that are disguised under Harry Potter’s invisible cloak ——impossible to make out from the left-handed floater he tosses with regularity —— are finally earning deserved attention on television screens across America (and abroad). His skip-passing, always early and never late, is busting irreversible holes into even the steadiest of defenses. He’s even started hoisting pinpoint outlet passes off his own rebounds with consistency to give his Nets that needed oxygen when the offense slows to a crawl.

Harden’s 44-point performance against Detroit was a prime example of that——It was a low-key coronation of the player he’s become, a mind-meld of the Harden from past and present. He’s a player that changed the trajectory of Brooklyn’s season from a contender on the outside-looking-in to a juggernaut that may rule the association for a quarter-decade.

“He carried us offensively. Made some big plays,” said head coach Steve Nash after the narrow victory in Detroit. “James definitely carried us offensively.”

That he has, Steve. That he has. With Kevin Durant playing in just 19 of Brooklyn’s 46 total games, and Kyrie Irving missing from 15 of his own, the onus has been placed squarely on the most durable member of Brooklyn’s three-headed monster to carry the load. Averaging 38.5 minutes per game, his highest average since the 2015-2016 season when he was 26 years old, James Harden has gladly taken on that burden in stride.

And not long after Harden made his proclamation, ESPN Stats & Info noted this...

James Harden is on pace to score on 25 PPG and assist on 25 PPG in the same season. That would be the 2nd time in his career he has done this. No other player in NBA history has ever done this once.

The MVP race is murky this year, to say the least, tainted by injuries to some of the brightest performers during the season, a cruel reminder that things in this world are just not meant to be enjoyed at this point in time. Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid got off to the hottest start of any big man since maybe 2011 Dwight Howard before going down with an untimely bone bruise to his left knee. LeBron James made a strong push early in the season, but his teammate Anthony Davis’ Achilles tendinosis forced LeBron into a corner with limited offensive options around him before James himself went down with an injury of his own.

That’s left the voting pool with Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, and rising option and reigning two-time MVP Giannis Antetkounmpo. Then, of course, there’s “The Beard”, who as much as skeptics have wanted to erase his regular-season performance from the archives due to his ugly exit from Houston, he’s making it pretty tough to do so. And in fact, he IS a perennial candidate for the honor, finishing third, second, first, second and ninth in the balloting the last five years.

Look, when James Harden says he’s the MVP, he means it. He’s not a guy who likes to mess around. And based on his incredible season in Brooklyn so far, who’s really to disagree with him?