Over the summer, Houston Rockets GM Rafael Stone faced a tough decision, as it pertained to adding a floor general. The Rockets had been utilizing Kevin Porter Jr. in this role for the better part of two and a half seasons and realized it was time to add a legitimate point guard.
Rumors had been swirling regarding a James Harden reunion, so much that it seemed like a fait accompli. It went from speculation to a sure thing.
Fans were excited. I began trying to find discounted Harden jerseys from Walmart and Academy.
Jabari Smith changed his jersey number from #1 to #10, which many thought was further proof of Harden's return, as Harden rebranded himself from The Beard to "Uno" in Philadelphia, where he rocked #1.
However, the Rockets signed Fred VanVleet instead and were mocked and ridiculed for it. Fans who were in favor of Harden cited the hefty dollar amount given to VanVleet ($130 million over three years) as a mistake.
We'd heard about VanVleet's shooting inefficiency in Toronto, in addition to foregone conclusions that VanVleet wouldn't play well with less established players, due to frustrations with the young Toronto Raptors' lack of effort.
As it turns out, adding VanVleet was the correct decision, as he's been able to provide something that Harden simpy wouldn't have. And couldn't have.
Houston Rockets point guard Fred VanVleet further distances himself from James Harden.
Yes, VanVleet isn't the isolation scorer that Harden is. And that's a good thing, in this offense, as Rockets coach Ime Udoka wants everyone to touch the ball offensively. Harden is a ball-stopper, as he essentially has to have the ball in his hands at all times.
Gone would be the Senhub offensive approach, which has been highly useful, as Rockets center Alperen Sengun has averaged 6.1 assists, which ranks third among centers. Early in the season, Sengun has had the look of an All-Star, as he's averaged 19 points, 8.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 61.7 percent from the floor, and 63.7 percent true shooting, as he's lauded VanVleet as a much-needed mentor.
It's hard to envision Sengun having the ball in his hands this much with Harden on the roster.
Granted, it hasn't necessarily been flawless with VanVleet thus far, as he's shooting a measly 37.6 percent from the field. The Harden truthers will point this out as further proof that Harden should've been the pick.
But VanVleet's contributions extend beyond scoring. His real value is in his playmaking, as he's averaged 8.4 assists, which ranks sixth in the league. Furthermore, VanVleet simply doesn't turn the ball over, as he's averaged just 1.6 turnovers- the fewest among the league's top seven playmakers.
This would certainly not be the case with Harden, who has averaged nearly double that in a complimentary role with the LA Clippers (3 turnovers per contest through three games).
VanVleet sets the tone and makes clutch free throws for the Rockets, which was on display in Friday night's 104-101 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. VanVleet has 10 points in the fourth quarter alone.
With the game 101-100 in Houston's favor, VanVleet made two pivotal free throws, giving the Rockets a 3-point lead with 15 seconds remaining, which helped the Rockets ultimately squeak out a victory.
Again, VanVleet isn't the iso player that Harden is. He's never going to score 30+ points in 30 games, and that's a good thing.
Because it's simply not what these Rockets need. Instead, they need mentorship, defensive effort and energy, playmaking, and ball security.
Which has made VanVleet a perfect fit, and has the Rockets currently fifth in the West, riding a five-game winning streak.