James Harden earned his fourth straight First Team All-NBA honor on Thursday, but Houston's leading man fell just short as he eyed his second career MVP.
Harden finished third in the MVP voting for 2019-20 on Friday as Giannis Antetokounmpo was named MVP for the second straight year. Antetokounmpo earned 85 first-place votes for MVP, while second-place finisher LeBron James earned 16 first-place votes. Harden did not earn a single first-place vote.
2019-20 marked another superb season for Harden as he finished in the top three of the MVP voting for the fifth time in the last six seasons. The Arizona State product won his third straight scoring title this year, and he showed off his defensive improvement as he led the NBA in steals. Harden's scoring prowess has never been questioned, but he's evolved into a true two-way asset in recent seasons. His growth has been reflected in recent awards ballots.
Harden has proved to be one of the NBA's top talents over the last half decade, and he's already in the midst of a Hall-of-Fame career. But recent years have marked a bit of a stagnation for Harden and the Rockets. They've exited the playoffs before the conference finals in each of the past two years, and in an ever-improving Western Conference, the Rockets' championship chances appear more tenuous by the season.
This isn't an implicit criticism of Harden. His co-star has notable flaws, and a deeply unconventional roster was exploited by LeBron and the Lakers. But the reality remains. Harden will likely continue to rack up the regular-season accolades in the coming seasons, potentially amassing another round of scoring titles in the 2020s. Yet without a championship, his rise up the all-time rankings is capped. We've come to expect top-three MVP finishes from Harden. Leading his team to the Finals is what's needed to change the conversation regarding one of the greatest scorers in NBA history.