By: Rob Botts
James Harden is the hands down most valuable player so far this year in the association. Although, an equal argument could be made that Dwight Howard on the Atlanta Hawks this year is Houston’s MVP. Cold, I know. Be honest down to your NBA loving soul now as I ask this: “Did you really think the Rockets were going to be this good when Mike D’Antoni was hired?” The coach who wouldn’t know a defense or a good shot if he saw it. A dude that pretty much made his money on the literal back of Steve Nash during his Phoenix Suns years? D’Antoni had a guy in Nash who could affect the game in so many ways and run his offense to a tee. Now he has the Beard who is having his finest season yet.
James Harden is doing everything for this team this season. He is passing, rebounding, scoring and clutching up whenever the time has arrived. He is blowing by defenders at an alarming pace for his opponents and either hits a beautiful floater, gets fouled or dishes to an open teammate for a three or a dunk on the break. At times it feels as if Harden is playing with his defender and going through his mental archive of ankle breakers and being torn by having to choose just one move to use at a time. If you ask the defenders that try to check him on a nightly basis they might tell you he pulls at lest two or three moves on one trip to the cup.
The two most impossible Harden attacks are his step back jumper and his drives to the bucket. The step back jumper has become a thing in the league the last couple of years as has the pick and roll. These recent trends play right into Harden’s MVP to be hands. I think we can all agree that LeBron James owns the most devastating, get to the rim at any time moves of all time. He is a freight train coming down the lane. But if I had to go with another player in terms of driving to the hoop in the most effective manner possible, it would be the Beard. He has tremendous strength and agility but is his craftiness that is all time great. In a way, he is LeBron mixed with Manu Ginobili. He is super strong and can always get left whenever he wants to get left. Harden also possesses a lethal stroke from the foul line. He can grind the games to a halt much in the way a “hack a person who shoots very badly from the charity stripe” would often do. But this momentum killer is an automatic 2 at the line for Houston.
James Harden’s true magic however this year has been his effect on his teammates. He has actually made them better. It is his willingness to give up the ball when the moment calls for it that has his teammates running to open spots, cutting down the lane and always being ready for a pass. They always knew that when the ball was in his hands he could stick the shot but they never had total confidence that he could be anything more than ball hog who always went one on five. There is a time and place for “get me the ball at the top and get out of the way” and unfortunately that has been the total offensive plan until this year. This is where coach D’Antoni and Harden became a very nice match. The offense has a smoothness to it that it has not had in the past. It feels that ball has purpose when it is passed around the horn.
The Rockets are only behind the Warriors and Spurs for the best record in the league. Seriously. James Harden is averaging almost a triple double. Close to 30 points a game, almost 9 rebounds and about 11 assists. He also is shooting over 50% from the field and almost 85% from the line.
This year, so far….Houston, you have an MVP.