Last season, James Harden put the injury-riddled Nets on his back.
As a result, Harden rose all the way to second in the odds race for MVP. But a hamstring injury cost him a chance at possibly surpassing the favorite, and eventual winner, Nikola Jokic.
Harden (24.6 points, 10.9 assists, 8.5 rebounds with Brooklyn) enters the 2021-22 campaign at +2,500 on BetMGM and PointsBet to capture his second MVP award (2017-18). Luka Doncic is a +400 favorite on both platforms.
“I think he’s been robbed in about three of them,” Harden’s Houston-based trainer, Justin Allen, told PlayNY.
“I think he should be a three- or four-time MVP for sure. You’ve got some great players out there. And you can’t take anything away from the guys who won it. But I definitely think James Harden will be in the conversation until it’s time for him to hang up his shoes.”
Harden dealing with playoff injury
Harden re-injured his hamstring in Game 1 against the Bucks. Somehow, he managed to return and play the final three games of the series on one leg. But he obviously wasn’t his usual dominant self.
Allen was stunned Harden was even able to suit up given No. 13’s condition.
“I’m going to be 100% honest with you. What he did was almost impossible.”
Throughout his career, Harden has been known for his durability. But after having to play his way back into shape following the Houston trade, his body broke down.
“That was difficult for me,” Allen said. “Just with the trade and the Covid-19 protocols, we didn’t get a chance to work like we did all those previous years when he was in Houston. The little things matter with an elite athlete like that.”
To that end, Allen has been training with Harden in Houston 3-4 times a week since the All-Star guard returned from Brooklyn. The duo has been focused on working the 32-year-old veteran’s core, stability, and body weight movements.
Allen has also been putting Harden through different hamstring exercises to prevent any build-up of scar tissue and keep blood flowing in the area.
Scary Hours Part II
Kevin Durant (+700 BetMGM, +750 PointsBet for MVP) and Kyrie Irving (+4,000 both) barely played with Harden given the injuries. Brooklyn players and fans alike hope that changes this time around.
Harden made a seamless adjustment to playing with two other superstars, passing first and serving as a vocal leader.
“For me, he’s always been the same player,” Allen said. “A lot of people who have something to say, half of them didn’t play the game to understand the game. But James is a very unselfish individual, both on and off the court.”
Allen has been impressed with Harden’s mental mastery during their training sessions.
“It’s just basic fundamentals, ladder, and cone drills,” said Allen, who also trains other NBA players, along with several college and high school football athletes. “And then different variations of two-ball drills. James is a very crafty player, so anything that is complex with footwork is going to be great for him and fits his style of play.”
Durant (four years, $198 million) already signed a long-term extension with Brooklyn. GM Sean Marks expressed confidence Tuesday that Harden (three years, $161 million possible after opting in for 2022-23) and Irving will follow suit.
“I’m not going to speak for him, but I know he loves it in Brooklyn for sure,” Allen said. “He wanted to get traded there for a reason. We just have to let things play out. But I know he enjoyed his first season there, and I’m excited for him to get back to it.”
An NBA championship remains the only thing missing from Harden’s trophy case.
“That goes without saying,” Allen replied when asked about Harden’s motivation. “Anyone that’s at that level, the end goal is to win a ring.”