Let me preface this by saying, I hate James Harden.
Ok, maybe not hate, but I really, really, really don’t like him as a NBA player.
The whining, the play style, the consistent postseason stumbling all just rubs me the wrong way.
But despite all of this.
I have to sit back and appreciate what this man has achieved, no matter how much it pains me to say it.
He’s an MVP, 8x All-star, 6x 1st Team All-NBA, 1x 3rd Team All-NBA, a Sixth man of the year, a 3x Scoring Champion and an Assist leader.
With all of this being said he is only 31 and has at least 3 or 4 more years of heavy production to come.
The question I’ve had to grapple with lately regarding Harden is this.
Is he underrated or overrated?
Harden has finished 2nd in MVP voting 3 times in his career, and 3rd once. All of these have come since the 2014-15 season but despite this, Harden is borderline a Top 5 player. Using the MVP finishes though it would be a fair call for him to be seen as top 3 player in the league no?
It seems as though the talent above him though is just too much to compete with?
LeBron, KD, Kawhi, Giannis, Curry, Luka, AD, all have realistic cases to be ranked above Harden.
But looking at the stats, should they be?
The last 3 seasons, Harden has averaged 33 points per game. That’s crazy. No one else in the league comes even close to that, and the last player to do this? Michael Jeffery Jordan.
On top of this, he has been an elite ball distributor, having averaged 8 per game since 2016-17, maxing out at 11.2 in one year alone. He gets his teammates involved on a level matched by few in the league.
James has had many attacks levelled at him for his defensive capability across his career and I am not here saying he is outstanding at all BUT he really isn’t as bad as he is made out to be. He has averaged 1.6 steals per game his entire career and in reality the man is fairly quick and 6ft 5in. He can stay ahead of his opposing player when asked to but I think it’s the effort itself that is sometimes lacking.
He is set to break numerous scoring and three-point shooting records in his career and is one of the few players in modern NBA history to have revolutionised the league alongside players like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
But in many, many ways Harden is overrated too.
Some people have Harden as high as the fourth best Shooting Guard of All-time behind of course MJ, Kobe and D-Wade, and whilst Harden is great and realistically does deserve that number 4 spot, without proper post-season success I think he will be hard pressed to overtake the Flash for 3.
The biggest factor that has been a roadblock in Hardens career is probably just his overall effort, or lack thereof rather.
Traditionally, Harden has come into NBA seasons overweight.
Often in the NBA world you will see a meme of James Hardens ‘dad bod’ and a ridiculous box score with the following caption “Your favourite team just got beat by Thicc Boy Harden”.
This in the moment is hilarious I agree, but it comes back and rears its ugly head later.
Particularly in the playoffs, because he is a man who takes complete control of a team and then expels heaps of energy on steering them.
By the time this comes to the Playoffs the man is already gassed and can no longer perform at 100% but rather 90-85%, which is good, but still not the best he can be.
This then leads to the next indictment on Harden his playoff record.
In his career, Harden has seen some success, having reached the Conference Finals on a few occasions and the Finals of course once.
I won’t take his loss against the Miami big 3 into consideration as he wasn’t the spearhead of that team and was merely a 6th man.
I will however take a look at the rest of his career.
For much of his career with the Rockets, its mainly been a Harden shot attempt bonanza.
He’s tasked with shooting and shooting and shooting and shooting.
If this doesn’t work then well, sucked in you lose.
You can see this has happened numerous times within his career.
He obviously regularly performs well, scoring 30-40 points a night on pretty good percentages but this doesn’t always link up to team success.
The biggest example of this is of course when the Rockets missed 37 straight 3 point attempts against the Golden State Warriors.
This of course isn’t entirely Hardens fault, its his teammates and the coaches philosophy too, but as the best player on his team and one of the best in the league, he should’ve taken responsibility and performed much better than he did.
The Rockets have just parted ways with both Mike D’antoni and Darryl Morey who have really leant into this 3pt heavy playstyle which has been successful for periods but consistently pulled up short.
Could this change see a change of fortunes for Harden in the Playoff arena?
Of course it could, I’m sure there are a multitude of roster changes on the way too, but I can’t see James Harden willingly give up the ball at this point in his career.
He loves two things, stats and strippers.
Corona has taken away one of those, so he certainly won’t let go of the other.
Unfortunately for Harden, my diagnosis for his playoff struggles is terminal unless he changes the way he goes about his game. This is amplified 10x when paired with the shot heavy game of teammate Russell Westbrook who also needs to reconsider his playstyle to guarantee postseason success.
The medias takes on James Harden vary wildly, from the greatest offensive player of this century to someone who puts up large stats that mean nothing when it comes to the postseason.
I think he lands somewhere in the middle.
As much as I hate to say it, he is without a doubt one of the most gifted scorers I have ever witnessed, his knowledge of the rulebook and how to utilise angles and other tricks to craft the game to his liking is almost second to none. It frustrates both fans and opposing teams but it is truly elite.
He is also a player whose success doesn’t really translate to team success. Despite his large assist totals, he rarely makes the players around him better. He usually gets these by driving into the basket, realising there are no opportunities here and flicking the ball out to someone on the wing for an easy three. A good play yes, but also doesn’t really do much for the team if the ball doesn’t hit the shooter perfectly or if you are relying on this play time and time again.
Just look at the man’s turnover rates, he currently holds the most turnovers in a season record and is on pace to absolutely obliterate the all-time career total turnover record. His irresponsibility with the ball is one of his worst features.
My assessment of Harden is that he is somewhere within the 5-8 range of players in the league today and then also on track to be the fourth best SG of all-time, behind MJ, Kobe and DWade.
Harden is great for sure.
But at the same time, he really isn’t.
If this was a pure offensive output assessment, he is right at the top.
But it isn’t.
This is a player assessment.
He’s like TMac, AI and teammate Westbrook.
All they do is put on a show, but in turn they have little to show for it.
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