ESPN is predicting the best players of this season and they’ve picked Houston Rockets superstar James Harden as the fourth best player.
In what has become an annual tradition, ESPN has released their predictions for the top 100 players of the 2019-20 season. As with any such list, there will be plenty of disagreements and some groups of fans will be ready to protest outside of ESPN’s headquarters because they think the panel disrespected their favorite player. It seems like Houston Rockets fans experience this level of frustration more than most other fan bases.
This time around, many fans are outraged over ESPN’s prediction that Klay Thompson would only be the 49th best player next year, but they listed Zion Williamson at 41st. Obviously, Thompson will miss a large portion of the season as he recovers from his ACL injury, and that had to be a major factor in ESPN’s ranking, especially since Kevin Durant was not even included on this list since he’s expected to miss the entire season due to his Achilles injury. However, putting a 19-year-old kid who hasn’t played a game in the NBA over a five-time All-Star is a good way to raise a few eyebrows.
ESPN had Paul George at the 10th spot on their list with Damian Lillard at ninth, followed by Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis. ESPN put James Harden at fourth, which is definitely nothing to sneeze at, but you have to wonder how he didn’t get a spot in the top three.
LeBron James was listed third, marking the first time he’s been below first place since ESPN started the NBArank back in 2011-12 season. However, LeBron’s defense was terrible last season, and his Lakers failed to make the postseason. James should’ve been moved down and Harden should be in the top three.
It’s not surprising that ESPN went with the reigning MVP and Finals MVP as their top two players for next season since that is the safe answer, but it feels like James Harden got the short end of the stick.
After winning the MVP in 2018, Harden came back and averaged 36.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game last season. He completed the most prolific scoring season the league has seen in over 30 years and helped the Rockets finish with one of the best records in the league. Outside of leading Houston to a championship, what more could Harden have done to crack the top three?
Here are ESPN’s Tim MacMahon comments on Harden.
“Can Harden be the best player in the world when it matters most? Yes, there will be a regular-season spotlight on how Harden and old buddy Russell Westbrook mesh. But Harden is at the point where he can’t really prove anything until late spring. It’s way too harsh to label Harden a playoff choker (postseason averages of 28.2 points and 7.0 assists as a Rocket), but the only way he can hush critics is to carry Houston to a title.”
MacMahon is spot on in the last part, the only real way for Harden to silence his critics is to win a championship. Winning solves everything. But he’s also right about Harden’s unfair reputation as a choker in the playoffs. In this past postseason, Harden averaged 31.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.6 assists, which is all you can ask from any one player.
To be fair, Giannis Antetokoumpo has also never shown that he can be the best player in the world when it matters most and his offense folded against the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals. Yet, ESPN predicts that he will be one of the top two players in the league next season, and they might even put him at No. 1.
James Harden definitely deserves a top three spot after his historic year, but at this point, we’re all used to The Beard being snubbed.