Shooting guard James Harden will officially spend the rest of the decade – and his prime – in a Houston Rockets uniform. That is all but certain as GM Daryl Morey and the Houston front office worked together with Harden to sign him to an extension. This served to engender goodwill between the two sides, as well as to send a message to the other teams that Houston has a top-5 player locked up for the future.
The Rockets are Harden’s team, now more than ever. He no longer shares the floor with a second star, despite the exhaustive lengths Morey went through to find him one. Dwight Howard didn’t pan out, and after only one Western Conference Finals appearance, he is gone.
On paper, the starters of the post-Dwight era seem relatively underwhelming except for Harden. Nominal point guard Patrick Beverley presents a perfect defensive complement to Harden, but does not provide secondary playmaking ability most other point guards can provide. Trevor Ariza’s ability to defend premier wings and his talent as a spot up shooter also makes him a perfect fit in a James Harden world.
The other two presumed starters, Ryan Anderson and Clint Capela, don’t provide star power either. While Anderson is a great fit as a shooter, it remains to be seen if he and Harden will ever be able to play together defensively. In Capela, Harden gets a capable pick and roll finisher and a great rim protector. He should help fix some of the mistakes Harden and Anderson make on defense and take defensive pressure off shooters by rolling to the basket.
Newly appointed Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni will help maximize their strengths and hide their weaknesses. A spread pick and roll with Harden and Capela (and the other three shooters spotting up around the perimeter) may be the most unguardable offense outside of Golden State. It is set up perfectly for Harden to launch step back jumpers, make crazy cross court passes to spot up shooters, and use his annoying hesitation dribbles to draw countless fouls.
It is a bit ironic that the Rockets actually gain more from losing a second star than having one. Morey went through cap gymnastics from the Chandler Parsons deal to the Jeremy Lin deal to have security in the event Dwight Howard or some other star became available. They got Dwight Howard but three years later let him walk for nothing when he simply didn’t fit anymore
Frustratingly, on paper Harden and Howard seemed a perfect for each other. If Howard had recognized that after his failed Lakers season he was no longer a significant post threat and turned himself into a spread pick and roll weapon the two of them may have been unguardable. With Howard’s prodigious finishing ability and shot blocking, the two of them could have become one of the best duo’s ever.
That was clearly not the case as Howard was second in post touches last year despite his bizarre assertions that he didn’t get the ball enough. This offseason, it became apparent that Harden needs the ball in his hands all the time to be effective and he needs teammates around him who are okay with that.
Last season, the Associated Press did not select James Harden for any of the three All-NBA teams. Even though he put up phenomenal numbers averaging 29 points, 7.5 assists, and 6 rebounds on a staggering 38.1 minutes per game, he couldn’t secure the 155 votes needed to get a spot.
Harden will have something to prove this year and I predict he will make (at the least) second team All-NBA next year, and will finish in the top-3 for MVP voting like he did in the 2015 season.
With the three former MVP’s (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry) all playing on teams with other stars, Harden’s individual brilliance will shine through.
He may not average a double-double next season, and his countless trips to the line may put everyone who watches his games to sleep, but Harden is a special offensive player, one of the most gifted in the world.
As the other stars in the league pair up to be on the same court and team, the Houston Rockets 2016-17 season will depend on the achievements of one man, their top-5 player, James Harden, carrying the full load.
photo via llananba