The Houston Rockets, while in the final throes of the failed partnership between James Harden and Dwight Howard, transformed from a contender into one of the saddest-ass teams in the NBA last year. Now Howard is gone, Mike D’Antoni is the new coach, and James Harden is, uh, holy shit, look at James Harden.
Those are highlights from last night’s Rockets-Spurs game, which the Rockets won behind Harden’s 24-15-12 triple-double. Harden was installed as the Rockets’ point guard this offseason, and D’Antoni told Bleacher Report that he hoped Harden could average something like 15 assists per game. The moment turned into a fun preseason soundbite when Harden responded to D’Antoni’s projection by saying simply, “Coach trippin’.”
Turns out, D’Antoni wasn’t so far off. Harden has dished 15 or more assists in five games this year, and is averaging 13 per game, which combines with his 30 points and seven rebounds per game to create one of the more ridiculous stat lines of the young season. Someone could look you in the eyes right now and declare that James Harden is both the best current point guard and player in the NBA, and you’d have few meaningful ways to refute such a claim.
Harden’s obviously been a great point guard through the first eight games of the season, but he’s also been a stunning one. All the things that make him such a devastating isolation player—all those nearly imperceptible feints, reflexive twitches, and seamless shifts of weight and direction—are also what have allowed him to play this season like some kind of Steve Nash-Michael Jordan hybrid.
Passes leave his hands without ever compromising the fluidity of his motions, and each one is perfectly weighted and timed. It’s harder for me to light a match than it is for James Harden to throw a perfect lob or drop pass while running at full speed and dribbling through a defense.
This is dumb:
So is this:
In hindsight, it seems sort of stupid that a guy like Harden—a player who can make those passes, go by any defender he wants to, and squeeze off a beautiful jumper from any spot on the floor—wasn’t empowered to run the Rockets’ offense long before this. The Steph Curry archetype has been around for a while now, and yet the Rockets thought it was a good idea to have Patrick Beverley be their point guard in years past.
No matter, Harden has the reins now and he’s responded by playing the best basketball of his career. More than that, a great player who was once an avatar of groan-inducing isolation play, lazy defense, and failed teamwork is now simply a great player. Nobody can say they aren’t having fun watching James Harden play basketball these days.