In James Harden's tenure as a Houston Rocket (sans the Western Conference finals year), defense has always been a question, and rightly so. If you are to have a good team that goes far in the playoffs your best player has to be able to contribute on defense.
It is right to question Harden on defense but he is clearly one of the best offensive players in the NBA. Single-handly he wins games for the Rockets dropping 30-40 plus points at the drop of a hat.
Last year while a down year for the team and him personally on defense, he became only the fourth player in NBA history to average at least 29 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds in a single season (only others LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Oscar Robertson).
Saturday Harden was rewarded with a well deserved new four-year contract extension. As one of the best players in the NBA, it was nothing but amazing that they were able to get this hammered out - shout out to Morey - before the final year of his contract. Harden will stay in Houston for at minimum three more seasons, fourth year is a player option.
But the question about Harden's lack of defense came up again and as he was answering, Alexander cut in to defend his star.
"Let me chime in for a second," Alexander said speaking up as Harden was speaking, "the guy played 42-43 minutes a game, he [had] to carry the team offensively, guys couldn't shoot the ball many times, he was it, then they expected him to go chase guys all over the court, there is only so much a human being can do, you should see him after a game and how tired he was, he'll play really good defense this year because he has guys who can help him."
Of course, Alexander is going to fight for his guy, but you know what it actually makes sense. I can't name very many players that had their team ask more from them than the Rockets of Harden. Most nights he didn't even come out the game in the second half of games because he had to stay in if the team was to score.
The logic does track, with both Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon in tow the offensive burden won't be as heavy of a toll anymore on Harden.
"(Now with help) I'm able to compete at a high level at both ends of the floor for all 82 games," James Harden said, "that's the thing I am more excited about is to actually go out there and show people I'm capable of playing at a high level at both ends of the floor."
We all remember the season of the infamous youtube video of Harden's defensive bloopers, blunders, lapses, oversights, or whatever you want to call it.
The year after the video dropped, Harden came out and was markedly better, while he wasn't going to be confused for Kawhi Leonard, he also wasn't the same player from just the year before. He was engaged, locked in and ready to fight every game.
This past season the guy that Houston had come to love, was nearly back to his youtube defensive days, not as bad but still you get the point, he wasn't the same player.
Now it's up to Harden to come into this season again as a different player from a previous year. The framework is there for him to do it, the team brought in a highly touted defensive assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik, management spent 133 million dollars to bring in shooters to help score.
If it's true less pressure and better coaching means more defense, do I smell a defensive player of the year award? No, I guess not, but I do smell a better overall player than last year, and that could be all Houston needs.