Harden the top MVP choice

With only a few weeks left in the NBA regular season, there is little left to be decided among the top teams in the league. The Eastern and Western Conferences have been clinched by the Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors, respectively, and some teams have already resorted to resting their starters as they gear up for their playoff runs.

But unlike most NBA seasons in recent memory, this season features an MVP race that is coming right down to the wire. Instead of having an MVP essentially decided by March, this year features a handful of deserving candidates.

Stephen Curry has dazzled all season with his spectacular shooting, LeBron James has put up the elite numbers that we've come to expect over the years and Russell Westbrook has turned the rare triple-double into a weekly routine. Although you couldn’t go wrong selecting any one of the aforementioned players, the player who has separated himself from this pack of candidates is Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden.

Harden carried the Rockets to third place in the Western Conference this season and has done so without the help of star center Dwight Howard, who has been fairly ineffective this year due to injuries. Averaging 27.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game, Harden has certainly posted MVP-worthy numbers. However, the biggest improvement for Harden this year has come on the defensive end. He’s gone from being maligned for consistent lack of effort on defense to one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and one of the league leaders in steals.

But the greatest aspect of Harden’s remarkable season is that it has come at a time when the Rockets have needed it the most. Houston had a terrible offseason, losing players like Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin in a failed attempt to sign Chris Bosh out of free agency before he decided to return to the Miami Heat. Add these losses to Howard’s injuries and nobody would have expected Houston to be sitting at third in a Western Conference loaded with quality teams. Thanks to Harden’s brilliant plays, a season that could have been a step back for the Rockets instead features Houston as a legitimate title contender.

Plenty of players this season are in the middle of their own MVP-worthy campaigns, but no other player has meant more to his own team this season. Take Harden away from Houston, and the Rockets instantly go from being a top contender in the West to likely being one of the conference's bottom feeders. While there is still plenty that can happen in the final weeks of the season, Harden is the league’s most valuable player this year, whether he wins the award or not.

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