It was October 26, 2017. NBA opening night.
The Houston Rockets came up relatively short against the Los Angeles Lakers, in a 114-120 loss on the road. That was truly the final time Rockets fans were given a reason to hold their heads down about their franchise’s direction.
Thus, a new year of 2017 has arrived, and that opening night defeat is nothing but a distant memory. It only helps fans realize that one game — is just one game.
The Rockets have been undeniably scary throughout the first 36 games of the season. They currently stand at a record of 27-9, and are holding down he number three seed in the Western Conference. While they’ve not only proven that they’re a dark-horse team to make an imposing postseason run, but they’ve also gelled quicker than any other team so far. After going 9-6 in Novemeber, a strong month of Decemeber (15-2) has propelled them to a potential championship-caliber mindset.
And of course, it’s all been led by a more controlling, more aggressive, more effective James Harden, who’s made the switch as the Rockets’ starting Point Guard. We’re seeing an absolute force on the offensive-end, putting up a career-high 11.9 Assists Per Game, along with averages of 28.4 Points, and 8.2 Rebounds.
It’s been an insane year for #TheBeard, and it goes further than what the numbers speak. You just need to simply take a peak at this kind of brutal dominance:
I’m truly amazed of how well the Rockets organization has benefited with Harden in full on-court control. He’s been slowly growing a tight bond with Head Coach Mike D’Antoni, who’d just been named the NBA’s Coach of the Month (West) for December.
Rightfully enough, D’Antoni has praised Harden highly on his leadership qualities, via Chron.com:
“If he doesn’t buy in to how I would like to coach, then obviously we’re not made for each other,” D’Antoni said. “From day one, he’s embraced the point guard role. He’s done everything humanly possible to make us a good team and our record reflects that. That’s the whole key. Ownership, management, your star player – they have to buy in.”
And respectively, Harden has been nothing short of brilliant, and the numbers explain why:
- Per 100 Possessions, Harden is averaging a triple double of 37.8 Points, 15.9 Assists, and 10.9 Rebounds a night.
- Holds a career-high Usage Rate of 33.7.
- Has logged over 1300 minutes on the court already, as this could be the third-straight season where he’s had the highest amount of playing time.
- Is currently leading the league in Offensive Win-Shares at 6.1.
- Career-high in Effective Field-Goal Percentage of 52.8%
We’ve all been aware of it. Harden’s been putting up the numbers, but a few players have rescurrected their careers, and their purposes in the NBA because of him. Just simply ask former Hornets sharpshooters Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson. Via NBA.com/Stats, Harden has made 59% of passes to Gordon, Anderson, and even Forward Trevor Ariza, who all are accounting for 26.8 shot attempts in this up-tempo Rockets offense.
For Gordon (17.7 PPG), who’s making a strong case for Sixth Man of The Year, has benefitted the most from James’ dominance. Since Gordon comes off the bench, he’s been absolutely deadly from three, at 42% on the season. Not only is he proving that he’s as healthy as he’s ever been since the 2010-11 season, but he’s also reminded those of how deadly of an offensive weapon he can be — for a winning situation.
As well as Anderson, after he began the first fifteen games of the season shooting just 41% from the field, he’s become comfortable, with a more effective 46% since then. I believe that if Houston wants any chance of competing at the highest-level, that Ryan has to be their most important player. It’ll be much needed for him to space the floor against a Draymond Green, a Lamarcus Aldridge, or even a Blake Griffin type of Power Forward. Regardless, as Anderson stated that Harden’s the best player in the league, the pressure isn’t on him to carry the offense.
The Rockets, as a whole, have been smashing franchise records, most coming from the long-distance category:
- Most Triple-Doubles with a franchise (Harden)
- Set NBA record for most made/attempted three-pointers.
It’s just that simple. The situation couldn’t have been more perfect for the 27 year-old Superstar, who’s nearing the top of his game, that’s if he isn’t already there.
To be in the same breath as Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon’s likeness, in hopes of becoming one of the all-time greatest to ever play in Houston, Harden’s critics will never leave him. On a side-note though, his Defensive Box-Plus minus is at a positive 1.4 this season, in contrast to his four seasons prior (-0.5). He’s slowly improved as a capable defender.
But in a vacuum, James been my pick for Most Valuable Player. The way he’s directed himself to the team and to the organization, they’ve just been a great basketball team led by an even greater player. But in comparison to his rival-candidate Russell westbrook, many will say other-wise.
As D’Antoni stated, it was vital for James to buy-in to this system, just like a future Hall of Famer like Steve Nash was able to. And surely enough, it’s been done.
None can forget how successful of a tenure he was able to have in his five seasons of coaching the Phoenix Suns, who went 253-136 (65%). To have the similar kind of talent that he has now, only faster and more decisive, is proving to be the best group of players suited for D’Antoni.
But the question will still subject itself:
Can (and will) the Houston Rockets claw their way past the Western Conference’s top-powerhouses, and return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1995?
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