MVP Ladder: Why Gary Washburn is Relevant to James Harden

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In last night’s game between the Houston Rockets and the San Antonio Spurs, the announcers discussed James Harden and the MVP award. While they all agreed he would win, the most intriguing thing was what they didn’t say.

Namely, they didn’t mention another…well…name.

This is where the MVP race is at. Harden is far closer to lapping the field than anyone is to catching him.

The Houston Rockets are 52–14 on the season — 48–11 when Harden has played. They own the best record in the NBA and seem to just be getting separation, winning 25 of their last 28 games.

He’s leading the league in scoring with 31.0 points per game. He’s also adding 8.7 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals per contest. He’s first in player efficiency rating (30.4), usage percentage (36.0), offensive win shares (10.1) win shares (13.1), win shares per 48 (.300), Box Plus-Minus (11.1), and Real Plus-Minus Wins (13.23), and he’s second in RPM.

His 232 3-pointers are the most in the league this season. If he finishes out the season he’s on pace to make 294, the third-most in NBA history. The only two seasons better belong to Stephen Curry.

His true shooting percentage is 62.6. The only other player to average 30 points, eight assists and 60 percent true shooting in a season was Michael Jordan in 1988–89 (32.5 points, 8.0 assists, 61.4 percent true shooting).

This season he is not just the best player on the best team. He is the best player and on the best team. Furthermore, they are the best team because he is on it.

Whatever your means of measuring, Harden is this season’s most valuable player, just as Stephen Curry was in 2015–16 and LeBron James was in 2012–13. There was one big difference between those two votes, though.

Curry won unanimously, and James didn’t. You can even make the argument that Curry won unanimously because LeBron didn’t. One person didn’t vote for James, and that was Gary Washburn. While Washburn did explain his reasoning, most didn’t buy it.

To be honest, his explanation did seem short. He argued why Anthony had value but not the most value. And I believe he was genuinely surprised to be the only one who didn’t vote for LeBron.

Many fans felt that Washburn sabotaged things deliberately, and he took a considerable amount of flack for it. Even though Washburn wasn’t keeping his vote anonymous, the NBA changed the rules so that none could be.

Nobody wanted be Washburn in 2016. Everyone voted for Curry. He was the clear MVP, and people voted accordingly.

I think this is a positive development. Voters shouldn’t be different for the sake of being different. That change in culture and mentality could benefit Harden. It’s harder to buck convention now, and this year, he’s the convention.

Don’t be surprised if he’s the second unanimous winner.

With that, here’s the rest of the ladder.

1. James Harden: See above

2. DeMar DeRozan: I keep thinking about this, and I keep coming to this conclusion. DeMar DeRozan is the most underrated MVP candidate. The Raptors are winning because of culture change, but no one embodies that change more than DeRozan, who sacrificed personal numbers for winning.

The interesting thing here is that the argument for LeBron is numbers. But shouldn’t DeRozan be rewarded, not punished, for being willing to make that sacrifice? I keep coming back to just how good the Raptors are and how much that has to do with DeMar, and I can’t see putting anyone else №2.

3. LeBron James: James has been putting up some pretty otherworldly numbers, but his team (or should I say teams) have struggled all year. And while you can argue that he’s carried the team, I’d counter he’s dropped it a few times too. They are where they are because he is who he is, for better or worse.

4. Anthony Davis: Since DeMarcus Cousins went down, Davis is averaging 31.7 points, 12.6 rebounds, 2.5 steals, and 3.1 blocks per game. Those numbers are a departure from sanity, and Brow is the primary reason the Pelicans are the PeliCANS and not the PeliCAN’TS.

5. Damian Lillard: The Portland Trail Blazers are looking like they might lock up the 3 seed in the West — something almost no one predicted, and Dame is a huge part of the reason for that. Since Jan. 16, the Blazers are 19–5, and over that stretch, he’s averaging 30.0 points on 64.6 percent true shooting to go with 6.6 assists and 4.0 rebounds. Portland has a plus 9.3 net rating with him on the court and minus-4.6 when he’s off.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com.