It was believed that when Dwight Howard came to the Houston Rockets that he would take the place of Yao Ming as the face of the team. However, with Howard out and James Harden putting up 37 points, let alone a 17-point performance in the third quarter in a 118-111 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers last night, the former sixth man of the year has proven that he is the franchise player.
While a victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers minus Kyrie Irving is no spectacular feat, it’s the way in which Harden willed his team to victory that is impressive and continues to impress everyone around the NBA. 37 points, 11 assists and four steals is the markings of a great player who seems motivated to do make his team win.
What’s interesting about Harden’s rise is that when he came to the Houston Rockets in a trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder and then signed a 5-year extension worth $80 million with following week, many thought the franchise had lost its marbles. While at the time, Harden was the reigning sixth man of the year, it was believed that Houston put too much stock and money into a man that was the third option on his previous team where he served as a role player.
With a smile on his face after a 105-96 victory against the Detroit Pistons on November 1, 2012, James Harden shocked the world by putting up 37 points and 12 assists while putting on a 14-25 shooting clinic in his regular season debut for the Rockets. Of course, many thought it was a fluke, but in actuality it was only the beginning for Harden, who in the 2012-2013 season put up record numbers of 25.9 ppg, third only to Carmelo Anthony and his former teammate Kevin Durant, to go along with 5.7 apg and 4.9 rpg, while leading the team to a 47-22 regular season record.
Harden led them to the playoffs, but it wasn’t easy with a new squad, and so they made it to the eighth spot in the standings, which resulted in them running into Harden’s former team, the Thunder. Initially the Rockets seemed ill-prepared by losing the first three contests — that is until they pushed the series to a sixth game, which ultimately resulted in their demise. Still, for a new team, making it six games to the Thunder is nothing to be ashamed of.
This brings Harden to this season. The big news for the Rockets during the offseason of course was them acquiring Dwight Howard. As a result, it was unclear how the two would co-exist; however, with 69 games into the season, it is clear that the experiment has worked with them currently placing fourth in the competitive western conference. As a result, the franchise seems to have a bright future with its franchise player James Harden and a force under the rim in Dwight Howard, who seems to be back to form despite an injury that has kept him out a few games.
What’s more remarkable is that despite having one of the best centers in the league, Harden’s numbers have remained pretty much the same by averaging 24.8 ppg, 5.7 apg and 4.6 rpg. He isn’t simply a numbers-only franchise player though. He is one of few leaders in the league that has managed to make his team better. He is the primary playmaker and between him and Howard, along with coach McHale they have put together an efficient inside-out style that has frustrated many during the season.
Howard, while great, is not the franchise player many thought he would be. Harden is the true heart of the team and does everything from scoring, rebounding, giving his team looks while also serving as a solid defender. This is what makes him the franchise.
Having said that, he isn’t without his weaknesses. Considering he is the playmaker of the team, all the plays go through him, which means his hands are on the ball more than any other player on the team. Because of this, he also is one of the leaders in turnovers, which he is averaging 3.7 per game — not a great statistic to have, but it goes with the territory.
Additionally, he does occasionally have an off night, which is the case with almost everyone in the league this season outside of MVP-given Kevin Durant. The maturity of Harden is what pushes the Rockets to a potentially solid playoff run. Many players when they aren’t hitting, put it upon themselves to take more shots instead of being selfless and helping the squad as a whole. Harden does put up a lot of shots, but when he doesn’t hit, he serves the team in other ways to help get the win, though typically if he is having a rough offensive game, they are in trouble.
Between the last two seasons, the Rockets have proven to be a force to be reckoned with, and a lot of it has to do with the former sixth man of the year who has elevated his game ten-fold since arriving in Houston. As a result, the name recognition of franchise player belongs to James Harden, not Dwight Howard.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey