It wasn’t until two weeks ago did I really start to appreciate James Harden as a player. I know what you’re thinking, “You cover the Rockets and yet you didn’t realize how good Harden was?”. Well, let me reiterate that – I didn’t realize how underrated Harden was as a superstar until two weeks ago.
Naturally – I got lost in the emotions and endless tubs of chocolate ice cream that comes along with a let down season. I began to find myself swimming in the same pool of pundits that blamed Harden for his lack of leadership and work ethic heading into a season in which many had high hopes for a team that reached the Western Conference Finals the year before.
In all fairness most of the criticism Harden received was well deserved. For the leader of a team that seemed to be making the leap from mediocre to noble – coming into training camp out of shape, being the reason why your head coach got fired and not improving in any facet of your game was extremely unacceptable.
But let’s take a step back from all the fair scrutiny that surrounded Harden early on and focus on what the Rockets demand from him night in and night out thus far into the season:
- Harden’s averaging 28.5 points per game, good for second best in the league.
- Houston’s offensive rating when Harden is off the court is 98.7 as opposed to 106.2 when is on the court.
- James currently ranks third overall in Usage Rating with 32 possessions per 40 minutes.
- Second overall in minutes played per game with 37.7.
- Leads the team in assist with 7 per game. (all stats per NBA.com)
If we’re comparing the numbers for Harden from this year to last year’s MVP like season, they’re nearly identical.
What’s even more impressive is that James is not only quietly having a career season, he’s doing so through all the turmoil lingering within the Houston organization and may very well be the first athlete to break the “Kardashian Curse”.
For those that don’t know, athletes in the past who have dated a Kardashian have gone on to perform poorly in their athletic careers:
- Miles Austin who was once considered a stud receiver for the Cowboys – saw a dip in his production after splitting with Kim Kardashian in 2010, the following season Miles recorded a career low in receptions, touchdown and yardage output.
- Lamar Odom was perhaps one of the most versatile and valued wings in the NBA before his marriage with Khloe Kardashian in 2009. Odom’s name is now centered around drug abuse and partying.
- Reggie Bush won a Super Bowl ring while dating Kim Kardashian with the New Orleans Saints in 2007. After the two broke up Reggie struggled to stay healthy and never quite turned out to be the player many expected him to be.
- Kris Humphries was married to Kim Kardashian for 72 days…. and was recently waived by the Phoenix Suns.
Fortunately, the break up between Harden and Khloe Kardashian has not slowed James down one bit as he’s been averaging 31.5 ppg, 6.9 apg and 6.5 rpg in the last 10 outings. Way to keep it strong James. *Fist pump
Without Harden, Houston would be shoulder to shoulder with the Lakers and Sixers in the loser-race for Ben Simmons.
James is perhaps the most impactful player to his team amongst any super star.
Without Stephen Curry or Draymond Green the Warrior’s ball movement and chemistry keeps them at a constant. The Spurs have shown over and over again that even while resting one or two of their stars, they’re still very capable of making a fool out of you. Without Kevin Durant you have Russell Westbrook and vice versa. The Clippers seem to play better without Blake Griffin and even if they were without Chris Paul, Griffin’s versatility allows him to play point forward efficiently.
Outside of Harden, Houston doesn’t have the luxury of handing the ball to another player to create any sort of offense. I’d rather go my whole life wearing Skecher Shape Ups than watch Dwight Howard showcase the world’s stiffest post moves all night long, Ty Lawson has been borderline useless, Patrick Beverley isn’t the traditional play making point guard and Trevor Ariza is a strictly “3 and D” type wing.
Reaching A Little
Call me crazy but Harden to the Rockets is much like how Steve Nash was to the Suns. And the more I think about it, the closer I become to calling the two almost identical in terms of impact on the game. Keyword: impact.
Nash’s Suns relied on his play making ability and high IQ to generate offense for them. Teams had to respect Steve’s ability to shoot from anywhere on the court yet keen in on his uncanny ability to get teammates involved through an array of passes.
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Same goes for Harden – teams have to respect the fact that James is one of the deadliest scorers in the league and when he get’s it going, plenty of opportunities open up for his teammates once defenses start collapsing on his drives towards the rim.
Both Nash and Harden use their wits for different purposes that hold the same beneficial result for their team’s success. Nash was able to see a play happen five seconds before it actually happened and deliver a dime which lead to an open dunk or three pointer. Harden’s outstanding upper body strength and body control allows him to draw contact driving towards the rim, resulting in a trip to the line or a three point play the old fashion way.
And yet as offensively potent and vital as the two are to their ball clubs, opposing teams have always had a point of attack against the two because of their lack luster defense.
To be fair to Nash, defensively it was apparent that he cared enough to put in a conscious effort where as Harden on most nights would rather check out if the guy in the fourth row behind the bench put enough butter in his popcorn for what ever reason.
In a season where inconsistency and drama have lingered through the air, it’s fairly easy to forget just how much of a force Harden is. But through the dawn of Curry’s jaw-dropping nightly unbelievable’s, let’s not overlook and under appreciate the talents of Houston’s very own bearded south-paw assassin.
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