James Harden just turned 30 years old August 6 and ever since he became a Houston Rocket since Sam Presti elected to not pay him what he felt he was worth he has played like a superstar in the NBA. But not the kind of superstar who can lead you to a championship, see that is where I have a problem with James Harden. I really ask my self that question, how great is James Harden indeed? Sure he can get you 50-60 points any given night but has he improved his game?
Ever since he arrived in Houston he has been one of the top 5 scorers in the NBA but just can’t seem to perform in the playoffs.
They put him in a combo guard role where he was the primary play-maker with Patrick Beverley playing a more off-the ball role while James Harden took responsibility for the play-making duties which is not Patrick Beverley’s strongest suite. James Harden burnt himself out tallying double digit assists but the Rockets realized they were overworking him so they trade for superstar Chris Paul which was supposed to be the answer to the Rockets’ problems. An elite pass first point guard who would regulate James Harden back to his natural role as shooter and isolation scorer, Chris Paul was supposed to shoulder some of the leadership responsibilities from James Harden and he did just that in 2 years.
Chris Paul and James Harden managed to give the mighty Golden State Warriors the 2018 Playoffs but the usual happened and Chris Paul went down with a calf injury which kept him out the last 2 games of the series after helping lead the Rockets to a 3-2 behind Cbris Paul’s 21 points. It was clear to me Chris Paul was the leader of the team at that time and he was the difference maker against the Warriors as the Warriors had no answer for Chris Paul’s dribble penetration and defense on the other side of the floor. Chris Paul actually put the Rockets on his back like a true leader and at that point I did not want to see James Harden with the ball in his hands.
James Harden is a younger version of Carmelo Anthony, great 1 on 1 scorer but his failure to adopt to playing in a system will be his ultimate downfall. What seemed to be the difference for Houston was having a versatile 3 and D wing like Trevor Ariza who wrecked havoc in the passing lanes against the Warriors and Trevor was literally guarding 1-4 and did a phenomenal job on Kevin Durant all series. I have a couple of problems with James Harden which are his defense,lack of a post-game,lack of leadership, and sometimes his basketball IQ should be questioned. If he was indeed that great he would’ve managed to close out the Golden State Warriors, Kareem went down for the Lakers and Magic was able to step in at center and tally 42 points 15 rebounds and 7 assists on his way to the first title in his career. But James Harden is not Magic Johnson, he is just not that great.
Sure he can handle, sure he leave you on your knees off a lethal crossover onto his signature step back move but will that win you a championship. Former NBA great Kobe Bryant has been critical of James Harden’s style of play, signaling the Rockets’ superstar will not win a championship with his style of play. Harden could consider it all noise but maybe he should take a look in the mirror if he is not able to lead Houston to a championship within the next 2 years. From playing with Kevin Durant,Dwight Howard,Chris Paul, and now Russell Westbrook James Harden has played with several all-stars in his career so the excuse about help should not be brought up he is simply just not that great. Could you only imagine if Kobe Bryant had Chris Paul as his running mate on the backside of his career? Kobe Bryant would have retired a 6-7 NBA Champion, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul are both 2 way players who know what it is to carry a team.
Let’s not make the comparison between Kobe and Harden, Kobe was a superior defender,superior in the post, and a much more well-rounded scorer. Kobe Bryant was an off the ball shooting guard who adapted to playing within Phil Jackson’s triangle for 5 of his championships and if you are a basketball savant like I am they just don’t compare whatsoever. I think the Rockets made a mistake, they should’ve never traded Chris Paul and fired Mike D’Antoni instead. I have been watching Mike D’Antoni time after time again engineer high potent offenses which fall short in the playoffs, he lead the Suns to multilple 50 wins seasons and coached Steve Nash to 2 MVP’s in the Suns era of the mid 2000’s. I just don’t see Mike D’Antoni making adjustments in the playoffs, Kevin Durant goes down for the Warriors making them more beatable than ever and James Harden couldn’t close them out this past-season.
Whether you want to make it about Chris Paul missing 24 games this past season and James Harden having to shoulder the load carrying the Rockets from a 12th seed to a 4th seed in the Western Conference and forgetting Chris Paul was his running mate, James Harden has failed as a Rocket so far and it’s not looking too good for him with LeBron James and Anthony Davis looking to rack up titles over the next 2-3 years as well. Russell Westbrook is James Harden’s new running mate,they went to the NBA Finals 7 years ago and have known each other since 10. I think that bodes well for the Rockets but they just don’t have the right coach who can utilize both Harden and Westbrook to their best capabilities. Harden and Westbrook have been scoring champions and MVP’s but they have not been able to win a title. They got a taste of being in the spotlight and have not been disappointed us in the regular season, but come playoff time they fold and you want to know why? They both lack the basketball IQ to win, they need a smart Head Coach.
I am not disrespecting Mike D’Antoni’s basketball IQ by any stretch of the imagination but his philosophy is let James Harden do as he pleases offensively and not holding him accountable on defense. Billy Donovan could not coach Russell Westbrook in OKC so why should I expect Mike D’Antoni to do any better. Should we seriously believe Westbrook and Harden will listen to Mike D’Antoni? The real coaches will be James Harden and Russell Westbrook and that is recipe for failure if you ask me, both are ball dominant players and absolutely kill ball movement, both forget there are 4 other players on the court and it ached me to see Chris Paul off the ball watching James Harden chuck away jumpshot after jumpshot absolutely playing into the Warriors’ hands these past playoffs. Chris Paul was always the leader of the team the moment he arrived, he just became the scapegoat. Why blame your franchise player whose been around for 6-7 years over Chris Paul who wasn’t around as long? The Rockets couldn’t have been more wrong, they never valued Chris Paul’s leadership and maybe if James Harden wouldn’t have let his fame and ego get in the way and actually listened to Chris Paul, the Rockets would have won it all last season.
What happens Kevin Durant gets hurt midway through the series and it was James Harden’s turn to step up and put the Rockets over the top and what does he do? He let Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson show him what true champions do. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson showed us that the Warriors’s system was simply superior, Curry could do exactly what James Harden does. He could average 30 ppg and over 10 apg but he elects to play off the ball and keep defenses scrambling to catch him off the ball. Does James Harden do that? Absolutely no, watching James Harden off the ball is comical to say the least. The man simply does not move off the ball on offense, he can be an exceptional defender when he wants to be but he should be locked in defensively at all times. I’ve always thought Westbrook should dial down on the shot attempts and use all that athleticism he has on the defensive side of the ball, bring down your averages to 15-18 ppg and focus on being the best defender possible but no Russell Westbrook won’t do that.
To conclude James Harden and Russell Westbrook I predict won’t be enough. It could be enough if they had the right coach and system implemented but they have neither leaving me to think yes they could win a championship over the next 3-4 years but it won’t be with Mike D’Antoni at the helm. The Rockets need a coach that will hold Westbrook and Harden accountable on defense and not let them fire away 25-30 shots a night, sure sometimes your superstars have to take that amount of shots but the goal should be to play elite defense which Westbrook and Harden are both capable of the question is will they make that sacrifice? I wouldn’t bank on it, maybe Harden and Westbrook shock me over the next few years but at the pace they are going, they’ll be burnt out 3 seasons from now and ringless.