The Houston Rockets will go as far as James Harden takes them.
You've heard that time and time again. But let's be real, that's complete crap.
Harden can't and shouldn't be expected to do everything, but time after time, he saves the Rockets, and in the closing minutes of a game, he carries them to a win.
Most recently, was the coast-to-coast game-winner against the Denver Nuggets. Down one point and under 10 seconds left, Harden got the rebound and pushed the ball up the court for the game-winning layup.
But it really shouldn't have to come to #HardenHeroics for the Rockets to pull off a win.
In the past five games, Harden is averaging 35 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds while powering the Rockets to a 4-1 record. The bad news is, three of those wins have come down to the closing seconds of a game, and it's taken every single bit of Harden's copious scoring to get the W.
The bench has been a thorn in the Rockets’ side of late. Those close wins, and a few of the close losses, can be traced back to not having great bench play.
Go back to Monday's game with the Nuggets. In the first quarter, Harden had the team humming. In the second, he went to the bench, and the scoring came more through luck than any actual offense.
For about the past two weeks or so, offense when Harden is not in, the game has been pretty hard to come by. With Lou Williams, you'd think it be pretty easy, just hand him the keys and let him be a #PocketHarden but that has not always been the case.
With Williams being less than a month into a system that everyone has been in for months, it doesn't feel he's been handed the keys to Mike D'Antoni's Corvette just yet. Instead, he has driving instructors Patrick Beverley and Eric Gordon also helping steer the car.
The Rockets’ offensive rating is second in the league not because it's Harden and others running the show. The offense is great because of Harden's court vision, and he's the alpha and the omega in D'Antoni's system.
Harden will go a long way into determining how far the Rockets will go in the playoffs, but the bench is also going to have a say. With great bench play and an MVP-level Harden, you could be looking the West's representative in the NBA Finals. But without the great bench play, a second-round exit won't be shocking.
When Harden goes to the bench, the Rockets don't need three point guards. They need one point and four shooters.
It works for the first unit, and the same recipe can work for the second unit.
The future is Williams running the show. It's not a slight to Gordon or Beverley, but those two guys are much better at working off of a great point guard.
Beverley is fantastic because he can out-rebound some bigs and he can lock players up defensively. Gordon is great because he is a legit scorer, he'll always find a way to put the ball in the hoop. Williams however, is also a great scorer but he can run pick and rolls about as well as anyone, he is an actual "point guard" hell, probably the only real one on the Rockets.
The bench will not reach its full potential until D'Antoni hands the keys to someone. Before Williams got here it was Beverley, and it was fine. But they added another piece, and right now, everyone is getting a chance to run the show on the second unit.
With 11 games left in the season, D'Antoni needs to give the job to one person now so the team will have all the kinks worked out before the playoffs.
The three-guard second unit lineup can really strike fear into the heart of opponents, but with two/three different people steering the ship when Harden on the bench, it's pretty easy to see why the offense stalls so much.