COMMENTARY | There once was a time where it was considered nearly impossible for a perimeter player to win the MVP Award, but those days have come and gone.
In 1956, the NBA gave out its first MVP Award. From 1956 to 1980, the only two guards who won the MVP were Bob Cousy (1957) and Oscar Robertson (1964). Since then, the MVP has gone to every position, with superstars like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James claiming a good portion of them. Big men Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Karl Malone, Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley have gotten in on the action as well.
When looking at the MVP Awards, one thing that jumps out is that the voters are constantly looking to give the award to someone new. They gave it to Barkley in '93 instead of giving Jordan his third in a row. They gave it to Robinson in '95 instead of giving Olajuwon his second in a row (even though the Rockets got the last laugh in the playoffs). Most important to this argument, the voters gave the award to Derrick Rose in 2011 instead of giving James his third in a row.
If you're a Houston Rockets (or Los Angeles Clippers, or Chicago Bulls, or New York Knicks, or Oklahoma City Thunder, or Golden State Warriors) fan, you're hoping that the voters once again deny James of a third MVP Award in a row, opening up the MVP race to a host of new candidates.
Other than the voters' propensity toward spreading the award around, James Harden will have an outside chance to take the MVP this season for these four reasons:
1. Houston's Improved Supporting Cast
The Rockets have one of the better teams in the NBA this season, after signing the man I called the the best center in the league this summer (Dwight Howard) and signing a number additional bench pieces. Houston will also benefit from having a year of experience under its belt, as players like Terrence Jones, Patrick Beverley, Donatas Motiejunas, Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons and Harden should all improve on last season's performances. The Rockets still have a lot of growing to do but they now have the talent to compete for a title, and anyone who follows the league will have to take notice of Harden's impact.
2. The Rockets' Increased Exposure
The Rockets will be nationally televised 26 times this season, which means you'll essentially be seeing the Rockets as much as almost any other team in the NBA this season. Harden will have plenty of chances to prove to that he's a legitimate MVP candidate this season, as almost all of the nationally televised games are against the league's premier teams and marquee players. If Harden does well against guys like Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat) and Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) with the entire country watching, everyone will begin to realize that Harden is an elite talent.
3. The Western Conference Lacking a Clear-Cut Alpha Dog
The San Antonio Spurs are still aging (it's about time they start looking a little bit older, isn't it?), the Oklahoma City Thunder lost their third scorer (Kevin Martin), the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors are both unproven (the Warriors with unproven youngsters, the Clippers with unproven playoff performers), and the Memphis Grizzlies aren't any better than last year. This means the door is open for someone to steal the Western Conference crown.
It isn't out of the realm of possibility for the Rockets to be in the chase for the best record in the West, although I ultimately expect them to finish fourth (four or five games could separate a handful of teams, though). If Houston makes a legitimate run at the first seed in the West, Harden will be the No. 1 man behind its success (well, Daryl Morey, too).
4. Harden's Ability to Score in the Clutch
Last season, Harden was amazing in the clutch. He made a game-winning shot against the Spurs late in the season, prompting analysts around the country to start to wonder aloud if the Rockets could upset the Spurs in the first round (too bad they didn't get the chance).
While having Howard will be a major boost to Houston in nearly every way, down the stretch of games Harden will still have to be the one that steps up. With so many of Harden's games airing on national television this year, if Harden continues to play well in crunch time, the entire nation will realize what the Rockets have in James Harden (and that is an MVP candidate).
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M. De Moor is an NBA junkie and a general columnist on Hoopshabit.com. He has followed the Rockets from the championship days of Hakeem Olajuwon, to the years of Francis and Mobley, to the McGrady and Yao era, and will continue to follow them through Harden and Dwight's reign of destruction.
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