After an offseason of drama and changes across the Houston Rockets organization, one major piece stayed constant. Superstar James Harden is without question a top ten, if not top five player in the league, and the Rockets realize that. Bringing in offensive minded veteran head coach Mike D’Antoni told the rest of the league that the Rockets were okay with being offensively driven.
Bringing in perimeter shooters like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon were the first signs that pointed to the Rockets using Harden more as a point guard. We’ve all seen how great of a player Harden is when he attacks the rim, and with the opportunity to either go at the rim or dish it out to the perimeter, it’s no surprise Harden is averaging nearly twelve assists a game.
While Harden certainly gets attention and recognition across the league for his play, he doesn’t seem to get the same attention as the other superstars across the league. This could be attributed to the fact that his former teammate, Russell Westbrook has had one of the greatest statistical seasons in NBA history. However, Harden isn’t very far behind the beast from Oklahoma City. He currently is averaging twenty-eight PPG (third in the league), twelve APG (first in the league), and eight RPG (which ranks first among shooting guards). Westbrook has managed to earn twenty triple-doubles this year, but Harden sits right behind him with twelve.
There is no reason to say that Westbrook does not deserve to be considered first in the MVP ratings, but the argument for Harden is about as good as it can get. He has led the Rockets to an excellent first half of the season, as they currently sit third in the competitive Western Conference.
However, there is a lot more to discuss when looking at the season Harden has had thus far. He ranks second in the league in terms of estimated wins added, with a score of fourteen (13.6). He sits behind only, you guessed it, Russell Westbrook (13.7). Houston has thirty-two wins this year, so say Harden went down with a season ending injury. While the Rockets should be able to stay slightly above .500, they would immediately lose any opportunity to be a contender in the West. This may seem obvious, as when a team loses a star player like Harden, their chances of being successful take a large hit.
However, take a player like Paul George. The small forward is the Indiana Pacers best player, and is having a strong season. Yet, he currently ranks forty-second in the NBA in EWA with a score of five. The Pacers do not have as good of a record as Houston does, but this does demonstrate that losing a superstar does not always mean a team will go down the tubes.
As the second half of the season approaches, there will be two major storylines that will play out in Houston. The first and more important storyline is where the Rockets will finish up in the Western Conference standings. Could they surpass their interstate rivals the San Antonio Spurs or even climb all the way to the top and own the one seed over the Golden State Warriors? They are certainly in striking distance, and if they continue to play the way they are, the Rockets have a great opportunity.
The other storyline that Rocket fans will mainly be intrigued by is if Harden will hoist the MVP trophy at the end of this season. As referenced by most of this article, he most likely only trails Russell Westbrook. If the season ended today, it would be hard not to give it to Westbrook despite the Thunder’s “so-so” record. However, if Harden can keep up his phenomenal play and lead the Rockets to a fifty-five sixty win season, he will certainly have the resume as well to match-up.