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James Harden Embraces Leadership Role

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James Harden Embraces Leadership Role

James Harden‘s basketball career has grown leaps and bounds since he owned the 6th man title in Oklahoma City just three seasons ago. So much so that the man with the most revered beard in basketball now is lobbying for his first MVP with the Houston Rockets.

  • Minutes: 2465 (1st)
  • PER: 26.7 (4th)
  • Usage Pct: 31.1 (7th)
  • Win Shares: 13.7 (1st)
  • Offensive Win Shares: 10.0 (1st)
  • Defensive Win Shares: 3.7 (5th)
  • Value Over Replacement Player: 6.6 (1st)
  • Steals Per Game: 1.9 (6th)

During his final Campaign with the Thunder back in 2011/12, Harden helped the team get to the finals. Unfortunately the team was not ready to win it all just yet. Their was a lot of speculation about whether or not Harden would resign for what was going to likely be less than max money. Presti opted to not chance it and traded Harden to the Rockets before he hit Free Agency. So began Harden’s new journey in Houston.

Scoring 26 points per game during both of his first two seasons, their was no doubt Harden was a talented guy and could score the basketball.

He was ridiculed for his defense last season after being polarized on you tube. His defensive game was picked apart to no ends, as Harden was labelled nothing more than a one-way offensive talent.

Harden got his max deal and became the face of the Rockets franchise. Giving him the chance to be a first option guy. Something some felt he was looking for. It wasn’t all roses as the always tough NBA post season revealed itself as just that.

First round exits in only 6 games during both of his first two seasons with the Rockers, likely haunted James Harden in his sleep. Or maybe they didn’t, either way it gave the media ammunition to question whether or not he could truly deliver during crunch time.

His raw talent was never in question. Harden’s ability to play defense and lead was. By default he took the job description of a leader, how good of a job he was actually doing wasn’t clear. Rumors about he and Dwight Howard eating in separate quarters surfaced, as well as comments about the other guys simply being role players. Then, something changed as Harden was thrust into a leadership role that reshaped his basketball character.

Team USA would see themselves in search of a leader, for the 2014 FIBA Cup.  Coach Jerry Colangelo was looking for someone to take the reigns, as the team was without key players who were forced to miss the tournament with injury. This was where Harden really started to blossom.

Colangelo later spoke with the Washington Post (as reported by Michael Lee) having this to say about Harden and his new role;

“Right now, I think I would look to Harden as that leader. Harden is kind of a natural leader and he seems to be willing to accept that role. And you can just kind of feel it and sense. He’s the one”

Under Colangelo’s tutelage, Harden showcased a significantly improved defensive game. He turned a liability into an asset. Something Michael Jordan did en route to a defensive Player of the Year Award. Harden took his new hat and brought it back to work with him in Houston.

Right now, I think I would look to Harden as that leader. Harden is kind of a natural leader and he seems to be willing to accept that role. And you can just kind of feel it and sense. He’s the one – Colangelo

This is where Harden turned the corner and began to give himself the chance to be a two-way threat. The path to greatness was starting to take shape.

Leadership is a component of the game that can’t be found on the leader board or stat sheet. In fact, leadership is the most underrated gift in the game of basketball.

One could argue that the stat sheet was evidence enough that Harden was already a great player in this league. However, statistics don’t always tell the whole story. In fact they never do. The mathematics component in which we use to crunch numbers, does not account for the intangibles. Those intangibles cannot be quantified and until one understands all of the small things that make a basketball player great, we cannot fully quantify it.

Leadership simply cannot be measured. James Harden has transformed the Houston Rockets into a legitimate contender in the NBA. He did it by committing himself on the defensive end. It was always there, he just decided it was time to go get it.

His 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 steals per contest were only the start. Harden’s on-ball defense also came full circle. The advanced statistics such as win shares, defensive win shares, usage rating, and minutes played help us recognize the individual impact he has had while on the court playing with his teammates.

The success he has had while leading this squad without Dwight Howard can also be accounted for by his teammates willingness to follow his lead. Harden is communicating, passing the basketball, and making grown man decisions in crunch time.

Quite simply, Harden has done something only really special players do. He has made those around him better. James Harden has already won the MVP in Houston. Making the Rockets a force to reckon with in the NBA. The team is noticeably tougher on the court, the evidence can be seen in  their willingness to follow the leader. That leader is James Harden.

Next: Has Harden buried his MVP challenger?

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