James Harden is right, you know. Every single word he told Fran Blinebury of NBA.com about why he thinks he is the league’s most valuable player is defensible and logical.
The only problem Harden has, as have all candidates throughout the history of the award, is that “valuable” is totally an eye-of-the-beholder thing, and beholding is a very inexact science. Even for players.
“I feel as though I am the MVP,” Harden told Blinebury. “I think the MVP is the most valuable player to your team. Obviously you have to be winning and be one of the top teams in this league and we are.
“I’m not taking credit away from anybody else in the league. But I've been consistent all year. I've just been doing the right things to put my team in situations to win, considering all of the different circumstances we've had to deal with.”
And there you go. The word “considering.” There’s nothing wrong with it because the award requires consideration.
But what he has done, and what Curry has done, are in many ways different things, for different teams under different circumstances, and every arcane stat Harden can produce, Curry can produce the same one stood on its head.
For instance, the fourth quarter stat. Curry sits out a lot of them because he and the Warriors lead the league in double-digit wins, which Harden’s proponents use as proof that he is needed the entire game.
We could go on and on with this hilarity, but basketball nerdery -- while helpful in understanding many nuances of the game -- is no way to settle this kind of argument while still enjoying an evening at your local tavern.
The real truth of this debate is that it hinges not on the deeds of Curry v. Harden (or if you must, Harden v. Curry) but on those of their teammates.
Curry’s argument is that he is the best player on the best team, and what better way to prove your value than to be the baddest dude on the baddest thing?
[RELATED: Stephen Curry stats]
Harden’s argument is that he is the best player on a team that could have been the best team if injuries hadn’t savaged Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley and Terrance Jones and now Donatas Motiejunas.
[RELATED: James Harden stats]
In other words, the MVP will hinge on whether team-wide health is a good thing, or a bad thing. Now that sucks the fun out of any debate.
As we said, Harden has made a compelling case given his circumstances, but the MVP usually ends up in the hands of a player on the top seeded team in his conference. The last time someone won the MVP on a team seeded below second was a player named Michael Jordan in 1988.
In other words, Harden’s argument runs into the wall of history -- a history shaped by media members.
Which may be the reason the players want to create their own awards -- I mean, other than for the tactical union solidarity benefits. To redefine “valuable.” I can’t say with any certainty this idea has entered their heads as a group, but it would be interesting to see if the players view “valuable” the way the media voters do, or whether they will find Harden’s best-player-on-good-team-most-besieged-by-misfortune template more compelling.
Typically, the win-loss record has mattered more than the record-would-have-been-if record. And frankly, there should be a compelling reason not to use the actual record as a useful tiebreaker when one is confronted by a Curry-v.-Harden debate. There isn’t enough to truly separate them and their contributions otherwise, so the record should matter somewhere among the ancillary considerations.
In short, there is no real reason to vote against Curry. He has met all the traditional, visual and metric requirements for an MVP -- improved his game across the board, is a liability in no department, and his team would be at least 25 percent worse in his absence. So, frankly, would Harden’s, with the caveat that the 25 percent the Rockets would miss would take them out of the playoffs in this difficult conference.
So, again, we are stuck with the definition of “valuable.” And, again, we are stuck with an individual award defined by the performance of a team that cannot easily be reduced by imagining what those team might be if neither Stephen Curry nor James Harden had never existed.
Ultimately the logic that has prevailed will prevail again. Curry will win because there is no compelling reason for him not to do so. The vote may not even be that close, because this is now a two-player race, and there won’t be enough Russell Westbrook or LeBron James or Anthony Davis votes to change that.
And if the vote is lopsided, and Curry does win, and Harden gets huge support as the second-most valuable player, never let it be said that Harden wasn’t right in everything he said. He just wasn’t right enough.