The debate surrounding the MVP appears to reach a new fever pitch each year, and James Harden is no stranger to the endless stream of narratives and arguments. The three-time scoring champion has registered three second-place finishes in his career, and Harden took home his lone MVP in 2017-18. But Houston's leading man was largely absent from the discussion down the stretch in 2019-20.
Harden registered a third-place finish this season, continuing one of the more impressive stretches in league history. Harden has now finished in the top-three of the MVP vote five times in his career, a mark only matched by Kobe Bryant and LeBron James in the 21st century. Yet even with a top-three finish in 2019-20, it's not exactly as though Harden was firmly in the MVP conversation. He didn't earn a single first-place vote, and despite a hot start to the season, his case for the award truly flamed out sometime in February.
Perhaps Harden didn't have a legitimate MVP argument to most voters, but he certainly did to his teammates. Rockets forward P.J. Tucker briefly weighed in on the MVP debate on Saturday, noting the constant double teams faced by the NBA's top scorer. Harden may not be the 2019-20 MVP, but to Tucker, he remains the most unstoppable scorer in the game.
The Rockets faced plenty of traps in the 2020 playoffs, especially against the Lakers in the second round. Harden averaged 29.6 points per game in the five-game series as he shot 47.8% from the field, but by-and-large, Los Angeles' scheme stifled Houston. Russell Westbrook's shooting struggles bailed out the Lakers in 4-on-3 situations, and Anthony Davis and Co. wreaked havoc in passing lanes and at the rim. Harden may be relatively unstoppable in isolation situations. That's not exactly pertinent against a flood of double teams. The Rockets are still searching for an effective formula to score when Harden is trapped.
The Tucker-Harden partnership has marked one of the most successful periods in franchise history. The Rockets have posted a 162–74 record in the last three seasons, and it's frankly hard to imagine one member of the duo without the other. Harden creates a flood of open corner threes for Tucker, and Tucker's physicality and intelligence allows the Rockets to run one of the most unconventional defensive schemes in league history. Houston's center appears to appreciate his team's leading man after another top-three MVP finish.