James Harden is Both a Throwback and the Future
BY DELANO BURNETT
You know, "what if" is an age-old question that many of us love to ask. But… what if the “what-ifs” that James Harden asked all of us in his latest TV commercial came true? What if he stopped being creative? What if he lost his swag? What if he was all defense and no offense? (BORRRRIIIINNNGGGG!) How much less entertaining would the game be if James Harden wasn't the character that we all know him to be? For the sake of this article, let’s call what Harden does, the good as well as the bad, the “Harden Effect”.
Now I have admit, at times the Harden Effect has come at the expense of his team. We all witnessed the negative side of the Harden effect last season when the Houston Rockets tripped their way into the playoffs, with a record of 41-41 only to be quickly brushed aside by the Golden State Warriors four games to one. Kevin McHale, a coach they went to the Western Conference Finals in 2014-2015, was shown the door just a few games into last season. That move set the tone for what would end up being a disappointing and dysfunctional season for a team that had high hopes at the start of the year. The Rockets also wound up losing Dwight Howard to free agency in the off-season despite the fact that just two years ago he had been their prize free agent signing. Needless to say the blame for all of this was all laid at the Adidas of James Harden and deservedly so. Various sources around the Rockets reported that James Harden was the cause of Dwight Howard’s escape from Houston as well as Kevin McHale being forced out. It’s also well-known that James Harden came into last season out of shape and a lot of that can probably be attributed to the "champagne campaign" he went on during the 2015 off-season, while spending time with a certain well-known socialite; Khloe Kardashian. (The Kardashians strike again!)
All of this recent history might make any team leery of having James Harden as the face of their franchise, but none of us can deny that, at this point, he's a top five player in the NBA. Now of course I was skeptical of James Harden pairing with new head coach Mike D'Antoni, with both of their known issues on the defensive side of the court, but they are winning right now. The Beard appears reenergized and refocused and the Rockets are reaping the benefits with a current 27-9 record.
Russell Westbrook is probably in the lead for MVP with the triple-double numbers he's putting up, but even though he's having an unbelievable individual season, the Rockets are actually ahead in the standings in the Western Conference. If Russ is actually leading the MVP race, then James if only a beard’s length behind him. In fact, just a few nights ago, Harden became the first NBA player to record at least 50 points, 15 rebounds, and 15 assists in a single game. (His actual stat line was 53 pts, 17 boards, and 16 dimes). This record setting performance has definitely made this a “1a/ 1b” MVP race between him and Russ.
To further solidify his MVP status, James Harden is currently fourth in the league in scoring (27.8) and he's league leader in assists (11.6). We've all heard many times how James Harden is a “me-first” ball hog, but he's showing that in D'Antoni's system not only can he facilitate, but he can become a facilitator of record-setting and MVP caliber. In fact, the last traditional two guard to lead the NBA in assists was Michael Ray Richardson of the New York Knicks way back in the 1979-1980 season. So, James Harden is not only a trendsetter as he revamps today’s point guard position, he’s also a welcomed throwback to a time long forgotten. A blast from the past and paving a path into the future? Yeah, that’s pretty special. The Rockets are second in total offense behind the Golden State Warriors and third in assists, not bad for the “ball-hogging bearded wonder”. I watch a whole lot of basketball, a ton, but even I struggle with remembering some of the players on this team. He doesn't have another All-Star on his team and most likely won't have one this season either.
So… what if James Harden wasn't James Harden and we didn’t have the Harden Effect, who would we be stuck with? Another Kawhi Leonard? Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against San Antonio’s talented superstar, but I like to be entertained while watching the game and we all know that Kawhi is as straight-forward, blue-collar, and unflashy as they come. If anything he is the anti-Harden. He doesn’t give you the celebrations and shimmies or the trash talk, and that’s perfectly ok. The game needs its Kawhi Leonards just like it need its James Hardens.
Here’s the thing, sometimes players have to go through their trials and tribulations before they can ascend to the type of player they are supposed to be. This could be the prime of Harden’s career and who knows, if the team keeps improving and the Rockets find another couple of key pieces there's no telling what the Rockets could evolve into as a team. So, as long as the Harden Effect continues being a positive one, there’s no need for the "what ifs" Harden asked to become a boring and unfortunate reality.
Delano is the That's Game! Sports Fantasy Football Guru. Check out the That's Game! Sports Grind House for his latest FF advice. Follow Delano on Twitter: @GrindhouseTGS