James Harden is the latest All-NBA caliber player to request a trade.
The Houston Rocket’s demands are set at a young franchise player, role players on rookie contracts, and multiple draft picks.
“We’re willing to get uncomfortable,” a high-ranking Rockets source says regarding going to camp and into the season with unhappy superstars. Rockets asking price for James Harden: a young star and massive package of picks. https://t.co/oRH3vNq3z6
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) November 18, 2020
Analysts have begun debating whether Harden is talented enough to warrant a team mortgaging their future for potentially only 2 years of The Beard.
That debate is silly – the answer is clearly yes; it is worth it.
Harden is by no stretch of the imagination “overrated”.
The former MVP is essentially an offense all by himself.
Since arriving in Houston, the Rockets have yet to win fewer than 41 games or miss the playoffs.
They have been a Top-5 offense in terms of offensive rating for 3 of the past 4 seasons.
And the one season they weren’t, they still ranked 7th.
The off-court drama surrounding Harden right now is negative but shouldn’t hinder his perception as an exceptional talent on the court.
Young players and picks are always tantalizing in the fact that they could turn into the next James Harden.
James Harden already is James Harden.
1. Harden is Supremely Efficient
The biggest selling point for Harden has been his efficiency on offense.
He has morphed his game into a picturesque model of what a modern-NBA player should look like – a high-volume shooter from 3 while also living at the free-throw line.
Over the past 4 years, Harden has averaged more 3PA per game than 2PA per game (11.2 vs 10.2) while averaging an astounding 32.4 PPG.
He also averaged nearly 11 FTA per game – topping out at 11.8 this past season.
James’ shot chart is an analytics staffer’s dream.
His shot profile helped him have the 5th best True Shooting Percentage (TS%) among guards.
Every 35 PPG scorer in NBA history, ranked by scoring efficiency (TS%):
1. Harden – 62.2%
2. Harden – 61.6%
3. Jordan – 60.3%
4. Jordan – 56.2%
5. Kobe – 55.9%
6. Wilt – 55.0%
7. Wilt – 53.7%
8. Wilt – 53.6%
9. Barry – 53.1%
10. Wilt – 51.9%
11. Wilt – 49.3%
12. Baylor – 49.2%
— Rob Kimbell (@RobKSports) February 26, 2020
TS% is a measure of shooting efficiency that considers 2-pointers, 3-pointers, and free throws.
He accounted for 9.9 Offensive Win Shares (OWS) and recorded an Offensive Box Plus/Minus of 8.1 – both marks were second in the league behind Damian Lillard.
The fact Harden can maintain this level of offensive efficiency while carrying a 36.3 Usage Percentage (3rd highest in the league) is a remarkable feat.
People knock him for his “boring” isolation-style offense, but that doesn’t take away from his sheer dominance.
The Rockets decided to play that way because Harden is so transcendent on the offensive end.
He causes defenses to bend and break simply by being on the court.
5 sets of eyes are on him when he has the ball in his hand, which allows teammates to drift to open spots on the court or cut to the basket.
His increasingly limitless range from beyond the arc forces defenses further and further away from the basket.
Having Harden on your team practically guarantees you at least a top-10 offense.
Surround him with other talents, and you’re almost assuredly looking at top-5, maybe even top-3.
2. Underrated Passer and Post Defender
Harden’s scoring ability is truly incredible, but it often causes people to glance over other parts of his game.
James has been able to use his scoring talent to better his distribution ability.
His ability to cook his defender in isolation and get into the paint often leads to open looks for teammates.
Help-defenders need to crash to prevent an easy layup and Harden is adept at slinging passes to corner shooters or dropping-off lobs for easy dunks.
There are countless highlights of Harden dishing out dimes between the legs and lofting no-look alley-oops to his bigs.
The Beard averaged 14.1 isolations-per-game last season that yielded an average of 1.12 points-per-possession.
To put that in comparison, Russell Westbrook averaged the second most isolations-per-game last year with 7.4 while generating 0.87 points-per-possession.
The other looked-past aspect of Harden’s game is his defensive ability in the low-post.
Houston has essentially abandoned having a traditional big man on the court the past few years which has led to Harden needing to defend PF’s and C’s.
James’ combination of lower-body strength and quick hands makes him a bigger problem for post players than his height would suggest.
The 2019-2020 season saw Harden post a defensive rating of 109 – slightly better than the team rating of 110.
Harden is by no means a lock-down defender in the traditional sense.
Harden's not really bad on defense. Actually has been a plus on defense on that end for the last few years. Excellent post defender. Of course, I will acknowledge the schematic issues on defense fitting him with Jokic.
— Krishna Narsu (@knarsu3) December 22, 2020
You aren’t going to throw him on the other team’s best offensive player when you need a stop.
But the advanced stats show Harden is a slightly above-average defender with elite post defense.
3. Perennial MVP Candidate
The final reason why James Harden is not overrated is that the accolades say so.
He has finished in the top-10 in MVP voting in all 8 years he has been with the Rockets.
That includes top-3 finishes in 5 of those years and his winning season in 2017-2018.
He probably could have won it another 1 or 2 times if not for Westbrook’s triple-double season in 2016-17 and Giannis the past 2 seasons.
It sounds obvious but having the MVP on your team matters.
Winning the MVP is typically given to the player who had the largest impact on a winning team.
Having an impact on a winning team means that not only was that player great, but they made their teammates great as well.
Superstars win in the NBA – always have and always will.
But superstars cannot do it alone.
The superstars who elevate their supporting casts are the players that hang banners.