- James Harden is going to miss at least two weeks with a hamstring strain, opening the door for LeBron James to win the MVP.
- James is having one of the best seasons of his career this year and has been considered a frontrunner along with Harden.
- If James won MVP, he not only would tie Michael Jordan’s count, he would be the first player to win an MVP four years apart.
James Harden will miss at least two weeks with a strained hamstring, and it may be good news for LeBron James.
Of course, nobody roots for injuries in the NBA, but if Harden misses even a few weeks, it may create a window for James to pursue a fifth and historic MVP.
Through a little over one-third of the regular season, Harden and James and have been the two leading NBA MVP candidates. A Washington Post poll in early December of NBA writers found Harden leading the pack, with James in second.
Since then, both players have only strengthened their cases. James is putting together an all-time great season for the Cleveland Cavaliers with arguably his weakest supporting cast in years. He’s averaging 27.8 points per game (above his career average), 8.2 rebounds, 9.2 assists (a career high), while shooting near career highs from the field and three-point range.
Harden, meanwhile, has not slowed down for the Rockets, who were on a 14-game win streak and atop the West before a recent losing kid. The addition of Chris Paul hasn’t slowed down Harden, who is averaging 32 points, 5 rebounds, and 9 assists per game, all while increasing his shooting efficiency from last year.
However, with Harden out of the picture for at least two weeks, James could seize control of the race. If James manages a fifth MVP, it would be historic and huge for his legacy. He would become the first player to win an MVP four years apart (his last came in 2013). Five MVPs would also tie him with Michael Jordan for second-most all time, and he would be enter a tie as third oldest player to win an MVP.
James may benefit from a weaker-than-usual MVP race. The Golden State Warriors’ quartet of stars, in some ways, cancel each other out. Russell Westbrook has struggled to find his 2016-17 footing on the new star-studded Oklahoma City Thunder. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have slowed down after a torrid pace. Star point guards like Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard don’t have MVP-level production on good teams. Other stars like Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, Blake Griffin, and John Wall don’t have good enough teams or have missed too much time this season.
As ESPN’s Kevin Pelton noted, Harden could benefit from missing time if the Rockets struggle without him, thus bolstering his value. But if he misses over two weeks, it may be hard for him to make it back up. As Pelton also noted, only Bill Walton won MVP while playing fewer than 70 games, and that was in 1978. No MVP winner has played fewer than 75 games since Allen Iverson in 2001.
All of which is to say that the opportunity may never be better for James. In his 15th season, he continues to dominate and improve, and he still says he isn’t going 100% yet. If James continues his stellar production and the Cavs continue to race for a top seed in the East, James could build on his already impressive resume.