Dec 29, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) reacts to action against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

James Harden: Frontman Or Sixth Man?

It’s been two full seasons and almost two years since the Oklahoma City Thunder shocked the NBA world. The Thunder, coming out of a devastating loss to a much superior and eventual back-to-back champion Miami Heat, in an effort to reduce the possible luxury tax impact on the ownership’s pocket, traded for Kevin MartinJeremy Lamb, and a bunch of picks (three to be precise) by giving up on James Harden and, perhaps, closing OKC’s window/shot at the title.

Kevin Martin immediately took over Harden’s minutes as OKC’s sixth man:

  • 2011-12 James Harden: 2 games started, 16.8 points per game, .579/.390/.846 shooting, 5.8 assists per game.
  • 2012-13 Kevin Martin: 0 games started (obviously, Harden was OKC’s sixth man. Not even Harden started over Russell Westbrook), 14 points per game, .472/.426/.890 shooting, 1.4 assists per game.

(Note: By taking Harden’s last season and Martin’s first as OKC’s sixth man I can put into perspective the actual size of the “dropoff” that OKC took by getting rid of Harden. In this case, it looks like it wasn’t a big one.)

James Harden joined the Houston Rockets turning them into an instant threat lurking out of the Western Conference. But it was Dwight Howard‘s arrival a year later which put the Rockets in the high expectation world they find themselves today.

Of course, Harden’s potential is never to be put into the question, his numbers exploded once he became a starter/leader for the Rockets. But starting him over Westbrook was the biggest dilemma the Thunder faced when they decided to shop Harden.

They had, arguably, three of the best 15 players in the league in Harden, Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Unfortunately, two of them happened to play the same position.

  • 2012-13 James Harden: 78 games started, 38.3 minutes per game, 25.9 points per game, .477/.368/.851 shooting, 5.5 assists per game.
  • 2012-13 Russell Westbrook: 82 games started, 34.9 minutes per game, 23.2 points per game, .466/.323/.800 shooting, 7.6 assists per game.

Yes, once Harden became a starter for the Rockets he basically became the same player as Russell Westbrook. No, the previous stats were not affected by Westbrook’s meniscus tear in the playoffs since they only make for the regular season.

 (*cue to blown up mind*)

Regardless, Harden’s (and Howard’s) leadership has taken a lot of shots. The first of them emerged when Harden was asked by the Philippines Star about the loss of Parsons and said this:

“Dwight (Howard) and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets,” said Harden. “The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team. We’ve lost some pieces and added some pieces. I think we’ll be fine next season.” (via The Philippine Star)

Along the same lines, Dwight Howard downplayed the Rockets’ offseason moves by saying this:

“It won’t affect us at all,” Howard said. “We have myself and James. We have the best center and the best 2 guard in the game on the same team. It’s on us.” (via the Associated Press)

While there’s absolutely no doubt about James Harden’s on court potential and leadership, it’s his offcourt leadership skills needed to turn the Rockets into Western Conference or NBA champions which remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure, chemistry matters in the NBA, and neither Harden nor Howard’s comments, about the loss of Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik, helped Houston’s.

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Tags: Houston Rockets James Harden

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