After James Harden’s historic run last season, here are three bold predictions for the Houston Rockets guard in the 2019-20 season.
Year after year, Houston Rockets superstar James Harden continues to take his game to the next level. After leading the league in assists in the 2016-17 season, Harden led the NBA in points at 30.4 per game and won the MVP Award in the following season. Then, in the 2018-19 season, Harden averaged 36.1 points per game, the highest scoring average since Michael Jordan‘s 1986-87 season.
Harden has finished as either the MVP or runner-up for the MVP Award in three consecutive seasons and has led all players in points, 3-pointers made and free throws made in consecutive seasons. At this point, it’s hard to imagine the 30-year-old improving again next season, but Harden has surpassed expectations time and time again.
At this point in his career, the success of Harden’s season will be determined not only by the numbers he puts up, but also by the success of the Houston Rockets as a team, especially in the playoffs. With that being said, let’s take a look at three bold predictions for James Harden in the 2019-20 season.
Next: No. 3
3. James Harden will lead the league in steals
Over the course of most of his career, James Harden has not been known for his defense. If anything, Harden received more attention from the media and fans for his lack of effort on defense than anything else he did on that end of the floor.
However, Harden has taken large strides on defense in the past few seasons. Last year, Harden averaged 2 steals per game, second to only Paul George. His post defense, in particular, has become a real strength.
Harden still has a lot of room to improve his perimeter defense and he still has a tendency to coast on the defensive end of the floor, which is a big reason the Rockets defense improved by 5.2 points per 100 possessions when Harden was on the bench last season.
Even though he doesn’t always give his absolute best effort on defense, Harden is an intelligent defender, and he even finished sixth in the league in deflections per game last season. He always seems to have a hand in the passing lane and that’s why he will lead the NBA in steals this season.
Next: No. 2
2. James Harden will become the consensus best player in the league
Over the better part of the last decade, LeBron James has been widely viewed as the best player in the game, a title he has rightfully earned after winning four of the last 11 MVP’s and leading his team to eight NBA Finals in the last nine seasons.
However, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard have challenged The King’s status as the league’s best player in recent years, especially after LeBron missed the postseason for the first time since 2005 in his first season with the Lakers.
Of course, injuries forced LeBron to miss a lot of time last season, which all but erased the Lakers’ playoff hopes. But James also struggled to defend at the same level we’ve seen from him in the past, so you’d have to wonder if age is starting to become a factor for LeBron, who is entering into his 17th NBA season. James definitely lost his spot as the consensus best player in the NBA after last season.
With Kevin Durant likely to miss all of next season, that leaves James, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry and James Harden to fight for the title as the league’s best player. After beating Antetokounmpo in the playoffs and leading the Raptors to their first title, a lot of basketball analysts think that Leonard is the league’s best player.
That’s definitely a fair argument, however, James Harden has to be in the middle of that conversation after leading the NBA with 36.1 points per game last season and following that up by averaging 31.6 points per game in the postseason.
The reason James Harden will be viewed as the consensus best player in the league this season is simple; the best player on the team that wins the championship is often viewed as the best player in the league. That brings us to our final bold prediction.
Next: No. 1
1. James Harden will lead the Houston Rockets to an NBA championship
The last time James Harden and Russell Westbrook were teammates, they, along with Kevin Durant, led the Thunder to the 2012 NBA Finals. Unfortunately, that young Thunder core couldn’t overcome the Big 3 of the Miami Heat, who were in a championship or bust scenario after losing to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals a year earlier.
Now, Harden and Westbrook are seasoned veterans, have been in the NBA for over a decade and have each won an MVP Award. Both of these players have nearly every individual accomplishment, and their legacy from this point on will be largely determined by the number of titles they can add to their trophy case.
James Harden has heard the chatter from the outside. He’s aware of the media analysts who don’t think he can win it all playing with Westbrook or that his particular play style can’t win a championship.
While there are a lot of contenders in the Western Conference, there isn’t a specific team that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Harden and the Rockets have the talent and the experience to win it all, and there is a good chance they will.