I really want to talk about James Harden.
Reddit and Twitter complaints aside, Harden has been the best player in the NBA over the last two weeks, and he has inserted himself into the discussion for MVP. It’s great that Harden is playing so well and helping the Rockets to four straight wins, but there’s trouble brewing.
Specifically, this cannot keep happening:
Rockets— The Dream Shake (@DreamShakeSBN) December 18, 2018
Harden: 47 points
Rest of team: 55 points
Harden continues to be the entire Houston offense. A lot of parallels have been made to the 2015-16 Rockets, and this is another one. In 15-16, Harden played in all 82 games for the only time in his career as Houston needed every minute from him. He averaged a career high in minutes played, FGA, and usage (at the time). He was spent by the time he dragged Houston into the playoffs, and it showed.
The theme of that season was the lack of help for Harden. Ty Lawson was brought in to take pressure off Harden and was a big fat zero. Dwight Howard was healthy for most of the season but checked out midway through the season and his feud with Harden escalated and Morey made it clear that the team was going to support James. Donatas Motiejunas got hurt. Corey Brewer made 11% of his threes on the season (actually it was 27% but you believed the 16% which is all you need to know). For large chunks of the year, Michael Beasley or Marcus Thornton were the best secondary creators on the team. Beasley is averaging seven minutes a night with the Lakers on 10 total games played and Thornton is out of the league now. Chuck Hayes spent a week with the team and it was the best week of the season. J.B. Bickerstaff’s only offensive play involved giving the ball to James and just praying.
The 2018-19 Rockets are doing their best approximation of that squad. Eric Gordon is shooting at Corey Brewer-type levels. Chris Paul looks like he aged 10 years during the summer. Clint Capela is working hard, but he depends 100% on Harden and Paul to score. James Ennis III has been injured. P.J. Tucker is still his steady self and has made more of an effort to hunt floaters and drives when he gets closed down, which is nice. Nene has been hurt. Gerald Green and the bench mob has woken up lately, and sure enough it’s helped the team win. Mike D’Antoni’s entire system revolved around giving the ball to James and Chris and just praying.
Look, Houston’s players are never going to turn into All-Stars. I get that. But their actual star players need to wake up. And if Paul and Gordon don’t wake up, get ready for Harden to run himself into the ground trying to drag this team’s carcass to the postseason.
On a lighter note, Trevor Ariza returns to the Toyota Center wearing an opposing jersey for the first time since this happened (funnily enough also with the Washington Wizards):
Tip-off is at 7pm CT