Jan 3, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) controls the ball during the third quarter as New York Knicks shooting guard Iman Shumpert (21) defends at Toyota Center. The Rockets defeated the Knicks 102-100. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
James Harden was acclaimed by teammate Dwight Howard as “the best shooting guard in the NBA.” But is it true?
Houston Rockets fans have seen Harden grow into a franchise player offensively, but a defensive liability. While playing a sixth man role in Oklahoma City, Harden was an above-average defender, and OKC utilized a lockdown guy in front of him, Thabo Sefolosha.
It’s hard to fully assess Harden’s rank among the 2-guards because of the defensive aspects. Even so, taking a look at the offering of shooting guards in the Association, Harden may rank first among them.
Dec 4, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) attempts a shot during the third quarter as Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) defends at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Kobe Bryant sat out all but six games in 2013-14, but has to be considered when analyzing the top players at the position. Even at age 35, Bryant has a diversified skill set that will allow for a Michael Jordan-like transition. He will go from a perimeter threat to a huge threat in the post.
Harden, meanwhile, is attacking the basket with reckless abandon. The Bearded One averaged 9.1 free throw attempts last season, and 10.2 in 2012-13. He has little problem getting into the paint and initiating contact at the basket.
Even playing 38 minutes a night, Harden remained aggressive offensively and helped carry the Rockets, whose No. 2 and No. 3 options were not premier talents. Dwight Howard and Chandler Parsons are both valuable players, but Harden has no teammate to defer the ball to in late game situations.
And then there is the fact that Harden posted the highest PER of any shooting guard. Following him was Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, Manu Ginobili and DeMar DeRozan.
Klay Thompson surely is one of the best, but he isn’t that efficient. Joe Johnson has his nights, but is on rapid decline. Arron Afflalo thrived playing for the lowly Magic last season, and will return to Denver for his second stint in the Mile High city. He’s certainly in contention for the top-5.
Wade only played 54 games last season, while Ginobili missed 14 games as well. Dragic thrived with Eric Bledsoe out of the lineup, and his 21.43 PER attests to the efficiency with which Dragic played. The Suns were a great surprise story of last season, greatly exceeding the expectations of everyone.
Ginobili is certainly on the tail end of his career, but is capable of big games from time to time, almost entirely unpredictably. Ginobili is always a huge wild card for the San Antonio Spurs, and consistency must be rewarded in considering a player’s value.
All things considered, Howard’s claim of Harden being the best 2-guard holds up, at least offensively. He’s still a couple years away from hitting what would be considered his prime, and the Rockets may be a couple years from completing the puzzle around him, anyway. At this point, the only shooting guard who may hold a higher value is the aging Kobe Bryant. After Mamba declines a little more, Harden will indisputably be the best at his position.
DeMar DeRozan and Dragic both have the talent to make a push for the No. 1 spot, and are fine players, but as of today, Harden is the superior option to lead an offense. He averaged 6.1 assists per game last season and 3.6 turnovers. Considering his usage rate of 26.8 percent was the highest in the league, this is even more impressive. DeRozan’s athleticism gives him a great advantage and he’s continuing to grow as a player. Upside must be considered in these rankings, and his is as high as anyone’s.
But it all comes back to number 13. Harden is the driving force behind a high scoring offense, and while it isn’t astounding athleticism that allows Harden to do his thing, his hesitation dribble and ability to initiate contact rivals Wade in his prime. With Wade declining, Harden is the best 2-guard in the NBA at getting to the basket. And he’s the best at his position, whether other teams’ fanbases realize it or not.
Kobe may have another crazy year, but at this point the only crazy thing has been his attempt to put himself back in the game after rupturing his Achilles two seasons ago. Until we see Kobe put in a full season’s work, it is too hard to justify going No. 1 in these rankings.
1) James Harden
2) Kobe Bryant
3) Goran Dragic
4) DeMar DeRozan
5) Arron Afflalo
Feel free to berate me or praise me in the comments!