5. James Harden can shoulder the whole load, but probably shouldn’t
The most obvious thing we saw from Houston’s entire season is that, quite simply, James Harden can take just about any and all beatings and still carry his team to a win. We saw it in the regular season, when he almost singlehandedly salvaged the season after the rough start. We saw it in the playoffs, after he was raked in the eyes by Draymond Green multiple times and still evened the series at two games apiece.
But while Harden’s exceptional conditioning and durability led him to Michael Jordan-esque numbers individually, it just didn’t translate to playoff success for the team; otherwise, they’d still be in the NBA Finals hunt. Head coach Mike D’Antoni loves a point guard who can control the pace of the the offense, but unlike Steve Nash on D’Antoni’s past Phoenix Suns teams, Harden is a bit more — maybe even too — ball-dominant.
We know he has talent around him: Eric Gordon is liable to light it up any given night, and even Austin Rivers and P.J. Tucker had some surprising offensive outings this year. But it’s not often that you’ll see any of those players outscore or outperform Harden on the stat sheet.
For the Rockets to take it to the next level, it might require less from Harden, as crazy as that sounds. He can easily score in high volume, but the ball may be in his hands too much for other players to realize their potential and for the team to maximize each possession.