Houston Rockets James Harden: A Year In Review

By Lee Golden
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May 6, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) talks with teammates in game two of the second round of the NBA Playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

A couple of years ago, Sports Illustrated released their top 100 players going into the 2013-14 season. Kevin Durant immediately made it known that his former compadre James Harden had been underrated and misjudged. He expressed that Harden being ranked at No.11 was an insult and that he should replace the player at No.8, Dwyane Wade. Apparently, Durant knew something we didn’t at the time because since then, Harden has been on the rise.

Harden and company were eliminated in the first round of the 2013-14 postseason which punctured Harden’s stock in the next Sports Illustrated top 100 issue. He fell two positions and landed at No.13 but undoubtedly honed an untapped potential to superstardom. Who knew that all it would take was an inopportune flock of injuries to awaken his innate abilities?

Dec 3, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) claps from the sideline during the second quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Harden’s co-star, Dwight Howard, went down early in the season. He missed 11 games with a strained right knee which opened the gates to Harden’s MVP-caliber season. Harden averaged 29 points and six assists during his absence and carried Houston to an 8-3 record during the stretch. However, Howard returned in mid-December only to suffer another knee injury a month later. He was sidelined for 27 games with a left knee sprain which left Rockets fans praying that they could remain in the playoff picture. Little did we know, Harden was planning on becoming one of the faces of the league.

In Howard’s second stint on the bench, Harden took no prisoners. This was where we realized how special a scorer and how improved a defender he had become. He averaged 27 points, seven assists, six rebounds and a shade under two steals with Superman dressed as Clark Kent. Not only did Harden keep Houston in the run for the postseason but he had them sitting at an incredible 47-23 record (third best in the Western Conference, fourth in the NBA). But, in a matter of one day, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

May 4, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; A discouraged Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) and guard Patrick Beverley (2) talk to each other during a Los Angeles Clippers timeout in game one of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Los Angeles Clippers won 117 to 101. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

It’s almost as if Patrick Beverley handed Howard his jersey and Howard handed him his suit. They literally traded places and the injury woes continued. Beverley suffered a broken wrist one game before Howard returned to the court. I’m pretty sure if you were in Houston, you could here the sound of all Rockets fans using their palm to smack their forehead all at once. But you know the saying, when it rains it pours.

May 12, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) listens as the Los Angeles Clippers call a timeout in game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Rockets won 124 to 103. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Howard and Donatas Motiejunas played just one game together once Howard returned. Dreadful news continuously came down the pipe and this time it exposed Motiejunas would be out for the remainder of the season with a back injury. Howard was still trying to get his feet wet so all eyes turned to Harden once again.

Not to take anything away from Stephen Curry but Harden should have won the award (in my opinion). He was tested from the beginning and had to do more with less than Curry. I’m fully aware of the 17 fourth quarters Curry sat due to manufacturing such a comfortable lead. I’ve acknowledged the 14.7+ point margin the Warriors obtained against the Rockets when they swept them in the regular season. I know that Curry was more efficient than Harden in the majority of categories but I still feel Harden was more valuable than Curry. Not by a long shot though.

I’m not going to dive into the hypotheticals such as what if the two switched teams or what if the Warriors’ second-best play (Klay Thompson) was injured. All we have are facts but the tipping point of this case is your personal perspective and definition of the word valuable. For me, Harden’s place on the Rockets is more substantial than Curry’s for the Warriors. I digress…

Next: Regular Season Highlights