TORONTO — In the opinion of Raptors All-Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, there should be no debate about this season’s MVP race. Just hand it to Houston Rockets superstar James Harden.
“He earned it,” DeRozan said after Friday’s shootaround, hours before the Raptors and Rockets will meet in a clash of the first-place teams from each conference. “The things that he’s been doing all year are incredible. I think he’s a lock for it. He deserves it.”
DeRozan said Harden “should have been MVP last year,” when Harden was second in the voting behind Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, the second runner-up finish of the Rockets star’s career.
DeMar DeRozan says James Harden, who is averaging a career-high 30.9 points and 8.9 assists per game, has “earned” the MVP award this season. Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images
Harden has built a case as the clear front-runner this season. He leads the NBA in scoring with a career-high 30.9 points per game and ranks third in the league in assists (8.9), and the 51-13 Rockets have the league’s best record, carrying a 17-game winning streak into Friday’s game at the Air Canada Centre.
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DeRozan doesn’t think Harden has any legitimate MVP competition. But DeRozan readily admits that he is biased toward his friend, fellow Los Angeles native and former AAU teammate.
“I knew him when he didn’t have a lick of hair on his face,” said DeRozan, who is averaging 24.0 points and 5.2 assists per game for the 47-17 Raptors. “It just came about, man. We’ve grown. We talk about it a lot, to where we never thought we’d be in a position that we are today. To be able to have that type of conversation with a guy that you grew up with, that you went through every stage with, it’s definitely crazy to see.
“He was always nice. He was always nice, but none of us thought we would be where we are today. We would be lying to you if we told you we knew we would be who we are today. But like I said, to be 28 years old and be able to talk about the things we’ve accomplished, that’s the most incredible thing.”
Harden has made a point to avoid discussing his MVP prospects this season, but he smiled when informed of DeRozan’s comments.
“That’s like my brother,” Harden said. “He’s playing at an all-time level too. He’s out there killing. He has his team in the No. 1 seed in the East. He’s doing extremely great things as well. Just to hear it from him, especially with the level he’s playing at now, means a lot to me.”