James Harden is a top talent, but for the Houston Rockets to return to upper echelon status he needs to take on the challenge of becoming a better team leader.
It All Started When…
In retrospect the decline of the Houston Rockets could easily be traced back to the day James Harden signed his $200 million dollar adidas contract. Repeatedly over the summer of 2015, video’s surfaced of Harden partying with then girlfriend Khloe Kardashian and her famous Brother-in-law Kayne West or out at clubs with his friends.
When he limped onto the stage in late July to pick up an MVP (voted on by the players) that signaled the first sign of his sore ankle. Over two months later when training camp began Harden cited his ankle for the reason he arrived out of shape and over weight.
Was this the initial warning sign? Harden’s mind set appeared to be one of expectation. While Harden had spent his summer celebrating his huge endorsement deal and telling whoever would listen he deserved the MVP (for the record I did agree), Stephen Curry spent his working to improve his game.
The result of these two All-Stars was definitive; Curry’s improvements will earn him a consecutive MVP award following his efforts to lead his Warriors to the best record ever recorded in an NBA season. While Harden’s Rockets struggled to lead his team in a dog fight to capture the final playoff seed in the west. One could argue the Rockets gaining that berth was fortunate. First, it took the Rockets until the final day of the season to clinch. And, further luck was granted this season as the Rockets only needed to register a .500 record. Looking at the past 3 seasons the final seed went to a team who were at least 8 games over that mark.
Sure Harden is a super star talent and without him the team wouldn’t have won copious games this season. But one question remains: Is James Harden a good leader?
Emulate Durant Instead of Anthony
Now before Harden fans start thinking I’m hating on him – – I’m not. Harden has proven himself to be among the top players in the league and he been an integral part of the National team’s success. But, for Harden to gain the respect he most assuredly desires (based on how he plays and how badly he wanted the 2015 MVP award) he needs to take a page out of Kevin Durant‘s book and not Carmelo Anthony‘s.
From my perspective those are the two ends of the spectrum. While Anthony has always been a huge talent, his refusal to improve his defense or recognize giving up some individual stats to help make his team better has resulted in Melo never stepping up to the MVP mantel or winning a championship.
Conversely Kevin Durant took his game to another level choosing to increase his dimes, help his team rebound and make sure the squad on the floor with him were all achieving success.
— ALL IN Sports Talk (@allinsportstalk) April 27, 2016
Forego Individual Success For Team Improvements
Many may point to Harden’s improvement this season versus last year, but while his individual effort improved his team sputtered. Harden needs to take some of the ownership for their decline and examine what he can do to help those around him become better.
Examining the team stats from last season’s 56 game winning, second ranked Rockets team versus this years affords some clarity. The offense isn’t much different but the Rockets defense plummeted. Specifically, perimeter defense took a big hit: in 2014-15 the Rockets had the top ranked perimeter defense, this year they fell to 21st. Though the Rockets 17th ranked 2 point defense wasn’t ideal, they fell 7 spots to 24th this season. Most glaringly the Rockets showcased obvious decline of on ball defense given they ranked 29th for assists allowed by opponents after 12th last season.
Lead the Charge Defensively
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Harden’s defense has been the brunt of copious memes, tweets, youtube videos and jokes all season, but I won’t focus on that. Let me just point to the above variances giving my argument credence that a committed defensive minded Harden would go a long way to getting the team to invest in this area.
When the Rockets season ends and the eventual decision of who will coach the team is made (it says here it won’t be Bickerstaff) the selection of the coach needs to be carefully thought out. Not only should the replacement be a coach who can improve the team strategy (specifically defensively), but it is imperative the new coach will have the capacity to inspire and teach James Harden how to take the next step. Further, he’ll need to be someone who Harden respects, but who can also hold the bearded man accountable when (or if) he slips back into bad habits.
It’s not all bad news for James Harden, his work ethic and natural talent have made him one of the most exciting players in the Association. Now, he needs to take a long hard look in the mirror, make the tough choices and take the next step.
Make sure you check out Space City Scoops end of season Rockets Round Table:
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