Should the Houston Rockets have chosen James Harden over Fred VanVleet?

The Houston Rockets signed Fred VanVleet instead of James Harden this summer
The Houston Rockets signed Fred VanVleet instead of James Harden this summer / Tim Warner/GettyImages

There's an ongoing civil war between Houston Rockets fans.

Actually, there are several. We're not talking about Jalen Green vs Alperen Sengun here. We're talking about who Rockets fans should be cheering for when their team is on the sidelines.

For some Rockets fans, that's an opportuity to catch up with James Harden. They're pulling for the Clippers. For other Rockets fans, Harden is persona non-grata.

At the moment, Harden is playing basketball. The Rockets are not. Naturally, the longstanding discussions about him rejoining the Rockets are resurfacing.

Should the Rockets have chosen Harden over Fred VanVleet?

Did the Houston Rockets choose the wrong guy?

By all accounts, the choice was available to Houston. Last summer, Harden's reunion with the Rockets felt like a foregone conclusion. It's well-documented that Ime Udoka nixed the idea once the Rockets hired him.

For most of 2023-24, that sat well with most Rockets fans. Now that they're watching Harden in the big dance, some recency bias is creeping in. Let's look at how each performed this season.

Harden averaged 17.8 points, 9.2 assists and 2.8 turnovers per 75 possessions in 2023-24. VanVleet averaged 17.2 points, 7.9 assists and 1.7 turnovers.

Those numbers tell a story. Harden is a higher volume playmaker. He's also more of a risk taker. By contrast, VanVleet is more of a game manager. His ability to take care of the ball is among the best in the league.

In terms of efficiency, Harden had a 61.2 True Shooting % (TS%). VanVleet had a 56.8 TS%. So, Harden was more efficient.

Does that mean he would have been the right choice?

Houston Rockets' point guard brings value that's difficult to measure

Defense is harder to measure than offense. VanVleet averaged more steals and blocks than Harden in 2023-24. He had better defensive metrics. None of those numbers sufficiently highlight the difference between the two on defense.

VanVleet never quits - period. He's relentless when hounding opposing ball-handlers. We can only assume that was important to Udoka.

On the other hand, Harden is known to take his foot off of the gas on defense. VanVleet has been instrumental in establishing the culture that the Rockets wanted.

Still, all things considered, we can't definitively that that VanVleet was a more impactful player than Harden in 2023-24. Harden's relative sophistication as a playmaker may give him the edge.

Yet, that's part of what makes VanVleet a better fit as well.

Houston Rockets picked the right guy for the future

In a roundabout way, the Rockets made the right decision by choosing the lesser player. Allow us to explain.

Suppose the Rockets had signed Harden. In all likelihood, his basic counting stats would be loftier in Houston than they were in Los Angeles. Harden would presumably have taken on a bigger role on a younger Rockets team.

What's the succession plan in that event? If Harden were the focal point of Houston's offense, how would they eventually replace him? By contrast, VanVleet's replaceability is part of his appeal to the Rockets.

That's not to say that replacing him will be easy. Still, VanVleet's lower usage will make it easier to find someone to fill his shoes. The Rockets know they need a low turnover floor general who spaces the floor. If they'd paid Harden, they'd be thinking about how they'd eventually be replacing a superstar-level producer.

Next. shouldntbeback. 4 Rockets who shouldn't be back next season. dark

When it comes to this war, we know which side we're on.