Five players in NBA history have had two or more seasons with at least 400 assists, 300 rebounds and a 60 true shooting percentage. Magic Johnson (9 times), Michael Jordan (4 times), LeBron James (3 times) Larry Bird (twice) and James Harden (twice). Harden will be 25 as he enters his third year in Houston. Harden is the best shooting guard in the NBA. He’s one of the best offensive players. Whenever someone mentions Harden, however, it’s only about how little defense he plays, and how he’d rather party than work on his game. Yes, Harden is a lousy defender. Check the tape. Check the 11-minute highlight tape (can you call it a highlight tape if it’s just clips of you not playing defense?) on YouTube. It’s bad.
But his offense is really, really good. His numbers for the last 33 games of last season: 27.4 PPG, 6.9 APG, 4.5 RPG 40.7 3-FG %.
In the playoffs, his numbers took a dip. The Rockets couldn’t stop LaMarcus Aldridge in Games 1 and 2. Houston tried Terrence Jones, Dwight Howard and Omer Asik on Aldridge, but no one could stop him. The Rockets wanted to outscore Portland. Houston’s roster is built as a high power offense, and one of the best defensive centers. Too bad that formula couldn’t work against one of the leagues best power forwards (a position of weakness for Houston). But despite the Rockets’ clear lack of power forward to defend Aldridge, many believed the Rockets’ fire power offense would be enough to outscore Portland.
Harden struggled as the Blazers built a 2-0 series lead. Harden missed 35 shots, including 14 triples in the first two games of the series, and they happened to be at home, where star players should do well. It was clear that Portland had disrupted Harden’s game. Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum did a great job shadowing Harden. Harden needed 28 shots to score 27 Game 1 points. It was an embarrassment if you consider his numbers during the final 40-percent of the regular season. Harden has made a name for himself as one of the most efficient players. He does a great job of drawing contact as he reads opponents defensive tendencies. Harden, similar to Manu Ginobili, has deceptive athleticism. They each use their body to draw contact fouls as they attack the basket. Harden enjoys 3-pointers, lay-ups and free throws. He’s the prototypical analytic player who avoids mid-ranger Js at any cost. The best thing about Harden is he’ll continue to grow as a player, or at least he has time to grow because of his age. He’s better than the 37-percent field goal shooter we saw in the First Round of the Western Conference postseason. The game gets tighter in the postseason. Stars have to adjust, and that’s a knock on Harden since he has had two consecutive First Round exits as the star player. It’s great that he can lead his team to the postseason (especially in the West), but now it’s time to actually advance and try to win a title. The Rockets obviously have had a rocky offseason, losing out on Chris Bosh, and failing to retain Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Asik. Of course, Harden probably regrets saying his teammates are just role players (although, that is true). Harden and Howard are the Houston Rockets. They would be the worst team in the NBA without them. Trevor Ariza helps them big time. He’s a better defender than Parsons, and can be deadly from the corner trey.
Harden has proven himself as one of the best players in the NBA. He’ll be one of the main guys on Team USA in the Fiba Championship next month. Yes, Harden plays little defense. He doesn’t really care on that end. He gambles for steals. He fails to keep his eyes on both his man and the ball. He’ll let his man slip behind him, and then at the last second he’ll try to make a play on him. Those things, however, can be fixed. He could actually try on defense! That would be great for his career because he offensive numbers in his first two years as a starter are comparable to some of the greatest in NBA history.