Here’s how good James Harden has been this year: Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple double over halfway through the season for the first time in over 50 years, and yet the general consensus around the NBA is that the virtual MVP award is a tossup between Harden and Westbrook. While Westbrook is getting his numbers through higher usage because his dumb team has nobody else who can do more than one basketball task, Harden is playing in a completely different way than he has before. He’s still scoring a buttload of points, Harden’s also leading the league in assist by a wide margin and actively playing good defense (something which we’ve strongly mocked him for before).
Harden has become one of the most fun players to watch in the NBA, a distinction that he shares with Milwaukee Bucks Greek army knife Giannis Antetokounmpo. The line on Antetokounmpo has always been that he had the chance to become a dominant player if he developed a jump shot. What is most startling about his rise from oversized athlete with potential to possible all-star starter is that he did so without really developing a jumper. Giannis is shooting a career-best 53.5 percent from the field, but he still takes a majority of his shots at the rim. When your arms are as long as Antetokounmpo’s are, that makes for easy buckets.
Harden’s Rockets and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks met tonight in Houston, and the game turned about how you’d expect it to. The Bucks mounted a few stiff challenges, but the Rockets eventually asserted themselves before ending the game with a barrage of threes to take a comfortable 111-92 win. It was a lot more fun than most 19-point blowouts, thanks to Harden scoring 38 points, grabbing six boards, tossing eight assists, and Antetokounmpo going 32-11-6 with three blocks.
The full-game highlights are worth a spin, and most of Harden’s show him freezing defenders before gutting them with a three or a drive.
Harden had 12 in the fourth quarter and helped put the Bucks down for good, but they only were in the game for so long because Giannis can make plays like this.
The NBA is fun right now, and these two are right there at the center of it.