NBA MVP Watch: James Harden Dominates the Competition
In the last five games, Harden and the Rockets are rolling. Houston has won all five games by an average of 14.2 points. Harden has also been on point, scoring a league-leading 33.4 points per game while ranking third with 8.8 assists per night.
While Houston is in second place in the West, the NBA's leading scorer has been at the top of our ranks most of the year, with this week being more of the same story.
In this and all editions of our NBA MVP watch, we rank and examine the top five players based on our in-house nERD metric. For those of you unfamiliar with nERD, it's a player ranking that measures the total contribution of a player throughout the course of a season based on their efficiency. An average NBA player would earn a 0. Comparable to win shares, this ranking gives an estimate of how many games above or below .500 a league-average team would win with that player as one of their starters.
We already know the players, but let's find out what the contenders for NBA Most Valuable Player have been up to the last two weeks.
5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Previous rank: 5
In January, Stephen Curry was scorching. Thanks to an offensive explosion where he averaged 29.5 points, 6.7 assists, and 5.2 threes per game while posting an offensive rating over 120 and a ridiculous true shooting percentage of 71.0%, he took home Western Conference Player of the Month honors. February has been a different story, though.
Just a week in, it appears Curry and the Golden State Warriors have hit a wall. In the last four games, Golden State has been very unDub-like, going 1-3 and losing by 20 or more points to the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder. In the stretch, Curry has gone 11-for-38 from three (28.9%) for just 20.5 points per game. His struggles haven't been limited to shooting, either -- the Chef has committed nearly as many turnovers (4.3) as assists (5.0). His turnover percentage is at 19.6%, while his net rating has dropped to -0.8.
4. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Previous rank: 2
Since the last time we checked in on Anthony Davis, the New Orleans Pelicans suffered a tremendous blow with fellow All-Star DeMarcus Cousins being lost for the year. As the primary offensive focus, the Brow has seen his usage rate skyrocket to 34.8% and his shots per game spike to 22.6. The extra touches may have boosted his stat lines -- 28.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.8 steals, and 2.4 blocks in the five games -- but his efficiency has suffered.
Davis has seen his true shooting percentage drop to 55.3%, his turnover percentage rise to 13.3%, and net rating sink to -8.5. The struggles haven't been limited to just the big man, as the whole Pelicans' squad is in a slump. They've lost four of five and are coming off an embarrassing 24-point home loss at the hands of the Jazz. Davis was 6-for-16 from the floor while committing 5 turnovers in that contest. The lousy stretch has dropped the Pels to eighth in the West and only a half-game ahead of ninth place.
3. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Previous rank: 4
Over his last eight games, Karl-Anthony Towns hasn't posted the flashy point totals expected from an MVP candidate, scoring 20 or more points just three times. What the Minnesota Timberwolves' center has done to remain (and actually climb) in our ranks is more impressive than just mere points. Towns has shown extreme efficiency on offense, averaging 18.3 points per game on only 12.5 shot attempts per night the last two weeks. The club's 2016-17 leading scorer seemingly has comfortably slid into a secondary role behind Jimmy Butler. His usage rate is just 19.9% over the last four games, but his shooting percentages are off the charts (63.6% from the floor, 71.4% from three, and 91.7% from the line).
The big man's improvement hasn't just been his shooting touch -- he's also become an absolute machine by hitting the glass hard. He's grabbed double-digit boards in 19 of his last 20 games. His 13.5 board per night since December 31st is the fourth-highest number in the Association, while his 47 double-doubles in 56 games lead the league.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Previous rank: 3
Since missing a pair of games in late January, Giannis Antetokounmpo has seemed rejuvenated. Showing no sign of injury, Antetokounmpo set Twitter ablaze with a dunk, showcasing the athleticism that earned him the "Greek Freak" nickname. It hasn't been just highlight reel performances, either -- the Milwaukee Bucks forward has been racking up the stats in his last seven games.
In his first game back from resting, Antetokounmpo dropped his fourth game with at least 40 points this season. He sank 13-of-20 shots from the floor and 10-of-11 from the line while hitting a season-high 3 three-pointers. The All-Star then dropped a 31-point, 18-rebound, 6-assist line against a tough Philadelphia 76ers squad. He is averaging 26.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.3 blocks during this productive stretch.
The Bucks also seem rejuvenated, winning seven of their last eight games to surge up to fifth in the East, just a half-game back of the slumping Cleveland Cavaliers and John Wall-less Washington Wizards for the 3 seed.
1. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Previous rank: 1
Step aside Falcon Heavy, James Harden owned the most explosive Rocket performance over the last week.
Against the Orlando Magic on January 30th, Harden posted the first 60-point triple-double in NBA history as he scored 60 points with 10 rebounds, 11 assists, 4 steals, and 1 block in a seven-point win. The Rockets were without Chris Paul and Eric Gordon, so Harden put the team on his back by playing 46.5 minutes, which led to him going 19-for-30 from the floor and 17-for-18 from the line. In this mind-blowing performance, Harden finished with a 58.7% assist percentage and 43.8% usage rate but just an 11.6% turnover rate.
As he dropped the most transcendent line of the season and perhaps of all time, the Beard put some distance between himself and his fellow competitors for the MVP crown. His dominating play plus the Rockets' hot streak (9 wins in last 10 games) has allowed Houston to creep within one game of the Dubs for the NBA's best record.