Saving James Harden from Himself

New Faces: Bobby Brown, Kyle Wiltjer, Pablo Prigioni, Chinanu Onuaku (R), Nene, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson,

2015-16 Regular Season Record:  41-41

2015-16 Regular Season Achievements: 1st: Free Throw Attempts, Steals. 4th: Points, 2-Point Field Goal Percentage.  7th: Pace, Offensive Rebounding.

Leading Scorer: James Harden, 29.0

Leading Rebounder: Dwight Howard, 11.8

If you like offense only, if you like 120 point games, if you want James Harden to average a double-double for the first time in his career, 26 points, 11 assists, if you like three point shooting and iso basketball while Mike D’Antoni grudgingly scowls at Eric Gordon posting up, then welcome to the 2016-17 Houston Rockets. They will blitz defenses with their shot making and four seconds later give up wide open lanes for layups, allowing point guards to weave in and out the paint before dishing. The Rockets will make a mockery of the truth that basketball is offense and defense. But they will be one of the most entertaining teams in the league and should be on television every night.

The critics just can’t/won’t give the Rockets a break.

James Harden had a massive stab to the chest when NBA writers didn’t vote him on first, second or third team All-NBA. They were sending Harden a message through their pen is mightier than the sword swagger. Offense only doesn’t move us much. Guard your man. Don’t play lazy. Be active on rotations. Be a leader on the floor. Call out defensive schemes. Know backwards and forwards your opponents plays so you can…um….try to stop them. It was a petty piece of revenge by NBA writers who will tell you  Harden didn’t deserve an accolade because he put in 29 points and that only accumulated to 41 wins. Did Harden receive the message?

We know Darryl Morey didn’t. He hired offensive genius, three point whisperer Mike D’Antoni. Every year Mike D’Antoni has been in the NBA his teams have been last in defense or second to last. You can blame the players but you know what they say about the fish rotting from the head down. Leadership determines the agenda. Mike D’Antoni is who his resume says he is. He will romanticize scoring. The Rockets will score a lot.

The Rockets added Eric Gordon who is everything D’Antoni loves and hates. Gordon is effective on the perimeter. 39% over his career draining long two’s. 38% draining threes. But Gordon also is an iso player. He holds the ball, dribbles in the lane, weaves and sinks a floater or, he dribbles, stops, changes directions and beats his man off the dribble. Gordon is a scorer with the arrogance of one. It is not a secret those types of alpha male players give D’Antoni heartburn. But Gordon and Harden together are an explosive combo that defenses are going to have to figure out: who to guard, who to leave open?

Ryan Anderson is a D’Antoni type of player. He makes threes. He doesn’t defend anything. Anderson can go on clutch streaks of 10-12 points in a row, all from the perimeter. He doesn’t post up much. He doesn’t muck the game with physicality or intimidation. He has a quick release that will compliment all those times Harden freely gets in the lane. Anderson will be there waiting.

Harden has the most to gain and the most to lose with Mike D’Antoni. Harden is a top-5 talent though not a top 5 player. He gets to the line more than anybody. His hesitation dribble still tricks defenders. His three point shooting is sublime. The Harden talked about thing is the defense. In his career it has ranged from above average (his almost MVP year) to pathetic, to last year and I don’t give a s____.  We know what Harden is going to do this year. He will be the Rockets point guard and drop in 25 points. He has so many weapons now and with D’Antoni’s system he should have double digit assists.

In regards to the system. D’Antoni calls his offense the Freedom Offense. Everyone is equal. D’Antoni despises the star culture of the NBA. His favorite players, once you exile Steve Nash from the conversation, are the Jeremy Lins and Nick Youngs of the world. D’Antoni has little tolerance for the privilege and double standard that star players cloak themselves in. They are the money makers and in the NBA they have more power than the coaches. In that vein, D’Antoni’s offense isn’t to make anyone a star. It isn’t to pad stats. It isn’t to make you better than the team.  Shoot it or move it. Keep it moving. Don’t muck everything up because you need a Sports Center highlight. It is the beauty of Mike D’Antoni, his thinking like a socialist while the star culture of the NBA is all about ego, selfishness and domination.

Can James Harden adjust. I’ve gotten weary, not to mention bored, at watching Harden dribble, dribble, dribble, take a three. Or dribble, dribble, dribble drive to the rim for a foul. A lot was made of Dwight Howard not cheering for Harden last year when he made plays in a close game but really, that’s how those watching on t.v. feel. Harden wants to do everything. He does have teammates. That will be Mike D’Antoni’s biggest contribution to Harden’s game. He can get Harden to give the ball up. Less really can be more.

It won’t get more wins. D’Antoni ignores defense. Harden ignores defense. Ryan Anderson ignores defense. Cory Brewer, Patrick Beverly and Trevor Ariza can’t make up the slack. Nene is old now. He can’t stop anyone. So the Rockets will plunge to the bottom of the dog pile in defensive stats but who cares? D’Antoni was brought in to rescue Harden from himself. He will succeed.

Prediction: 43-39


photo via llananba