Representing the Houston Rockets for the eighth straight year, James Harden should look to make history and have some fun in the process.
One of the most endearing qualities of Houston Rockets superstar James Harden is how he clearly likes to have fun on the court. With the news breaking Thursday that he was voted as a Western Conference All-Star starter once again, The Beard will get to show off his fun side once again in the NBA’s most entertaining exhibition game.
The selection gives Harden eight All-Star appearances since he began his career in 2009 with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Being named an All-Star for the eighth time ties James with fellow teammate Russell Westbrook, however, there is a decent chance Russ will pull back ahead when the All-Star reserves are announced on Thursday, Jan 30 on NBA Tip-Off.
Only Hakeem Olajuwon (12) has more All-Star selections as a Rocket than James Harden, who moved into a tie with Yao Ming on that list with Thursday’s announcement. Given that Harden is 30-years-old, he certainly has the potential to catch and surpass The Dream over the next five years, assuming he remains with the team over that span.
Establishing himself as the Houston Rocket with the most All-Star selections would be quite a feat, considering the man he would be passing. Still, with the kind of season Harden is having, there’s no reason he can’t make history on Feb 16, when the 2020 All-Star game takes place.
In the interest of entertaining the Chicago crowd, showing his abilities and most importantly having fun, here are three things James Harden should try to accomplish next month at the All-Star Game.
Break Out His One-legged Stepback Three
No, we still haven’t forgotten about the move James Harden was working on this past offseason that looked like something out of NBA Street. There was already buzz before the preseason even began when he started breaking out the move in pickup games, as shared by Bleacher Report’s Twitter:
Although obviously a pickup game is a far cry from NBA-level competition, Coach Mike D’Antoni didn’t fully dismiss the possibility of Harden using the shot in an NBA game, telling Rockets Insider Alykhan Bijani: “We’ll see. I don’t know if he needs it or not…his game is pretty complete.”
Sure enough, Harden attempted the one-legged three a couple of times in the preseason, including this one against the Shanghai Sharks.
Given that the Rockets ended up beating Shanghai 140-71, it’s safe to say a game like that gives James some leeway in what kind of shots he takes. The same will be the case in the All-Star Game, which has turned into flat-out dunk contests at times where defenses are literally moving out of their opponent’s way.
James Harden has plenty of friends in the league that would get a kick out of him attempting the unnecessary move and getting one to fall. The way All-Star games go, it wouldn’t be surprising to see an opposing guard attempt the same shot if Harden has success.
Next: No. 2
Become the Second Houston Rocket to Win All-Star Game MVP
The Houston Rockets have only had one NBA All-Star MVP in their franchise history, and that was 35 years ago, when Ralph Sampson took home the honor. In the 1985 All-Star Game, Sampson put up 24 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in 29 minutes to lead the West over the East 140-129.
With talents like Hakeem Olajuwon, Yao Ming, Steve Francis and Tracy McGrady all since donning the red and gold, it’s a surprise no Rocket has won the award since. Even James Harden has been able to represent H-Town seven times but has fallen short of winning the award each year.
The best performance Harden has had in an All-Star Game was in 2015, when he nearly tallied a triple-double (29, eight and eight). Ironically, James would have won the award that year if Russell Westbrook didn’t have a monster game of 41 points and five boards to seal the MVP for himself.
Russell, in fact, repeated as All-Star Game MVP in 2016, tallying 31 points, eight rebounds and five steals in a 196-173 victory over the Eastern Conference. Harden was a reserve that year, scoring 23 points in 21 minutes.
Since there’s a chance Westbrook could be snubbed out of the game this season, James could be the only hope for Houston to claim their first All-Star MVP in decades. Harden’s ever-improving all-around game makes him a perfect candidate for a monster stat-line when the buzzer sounds after Team Lebron and Team Giannis square up.
In addition to his unbelievable scoring pace, Harden has had nine games this season in which he’s dished out 10 or more assists and six games in which he’s pulled down double-digit rebounds. As long as Harden’s team pulls out a victory, there’s a good chance he could be taking some bonus hardware back to Clutch City.
Next: No. 1
Set a Single-game All-Star Scoring Record
The pace of the NBA has been increasing year-after-year and leaning more toward 3-point attempts than ever before. With that, scoring averages across the league have skyrocketed, with the lowest-scoring team, the Charlotte Hornets, still scoring over 103 points per game.
With increased possessions come increased individual scoring efforts, as four players in the league are currently averaging over 29 points. Harden is head-and-shoulders above second-placed Giannis Antetokounmpo with his 36.6 points per game to Giannis’ 30, averaging 4.8 made threes per game in the process.
The All-Star Game is the ultimate offensive show, and with the way everyone is shooting as of late, there’s a decent chance we could be looking at a boxscore similar to the 2017 All-Star Game that ended with a 192-182 final score. In that game, Anthony Davis set an all-time record for points in an All-Star Game, scoring 52 on his way to being named MVP.
As it stands, the most points The Beard has put up in an NBA All-Star Game is 29 as a member of the West All-Stars in 2015. In that game, Harden shot 7-of-12 from the 3-point line and also tallied eight points and eight assists in a winning effort.
Looking at the numbers, it’s very possible for Harden to eclipse Davis’ record if he wants to next month. Davis’ 52 points came in 32 minutes in 2017. Just this season, James has scored 60 in 31 minutes, 69 in 37 minutes and 54 in 36 minutes.
Playing time will certainly be a factor, but given the way Harden is putting the ball in the basket this season, the record is his to take.