Rockets All-Star Guard is A Legend in the Making
James Harden joins the league of greats
LeBron James. Michael Jordan. Oscar Robertson. James Harden joined those NBA legends in 2015-16, when he became the fourth player in league history to average at least 29 points, seven rebounds and six assists in a season.
And yet …Harden was disappointed in his performance.
“Last year wasn’t a great year for me,” he said. “But it won’t happen again. That’s one thing about being great: You don’t make the same mistakes twice.”
The Houston Rockets’ All-Star guard has reached the point in his development that even a historically productive season doesn’t satisfy him. He expects more from himself—better defense, higher shooting percentages and fewer turnovers—and from his team, which slipped to 41-41 last season and lost in the first round of the NBA playoffs after finishing 56-26 and advancing to the Western Conference Finals in 2014-15.
Motivated by last season’s dip in the standings and enthused about the addition of new head coach Mike D’Antoni and proven veterans such as Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, Harden is bullish on a Rockets resurgence.
“Some really good things are going to happen,” said Harden.
Harden has accomplished many good things with Houston. Since the Rockets acquired him from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a blockbuster trade in October 2012, the 27-year-old has been selected to four consecutive All-Star teams and three All-NBA teams, scored the most points in the NBA and led the Rockets to the playoffs in each season.
"The Best Passing Wing"
A relentless offensive player, the 6-foot-5 Harden shoots more free throws than any player in the league (he has led the NBA in attempts in three of the last four seasons). He has also blossomed into what Houston general manager Daryl Morey calls “by far the best passing wing” in the NBA, with the seven-year veteran having increased his assist average every season. Even so, the Rockets view Harden as underrated.
“I don’t think people appreciate how great he is,” said Houston owner Les Alexander, “but we certainly do.”
The Rockets showed how much they appreciate Harden by signing him to a four-year contract extension in July. They also gifted their franchise cornerstone with a coach in D’Antoni who knows how to get the most out of playmaking guards; a talented running mate in Gordon who can relieve some pressure on Harden to create offense; and a stretch power forward in Anderson who will spread the court and discourage defenses from focusing so much on Harden.
Houston’s moves are designed to maximize Harden’s peak years.
“We have James Harden in his prime,” said Morey. “We’re building this for a championship run. We’re looking to win now.”
Houston harbored championship aspirations last season, but a slow start led to an eighth-place finish in the Western Conference. Harden, however, was strengthened by the experience.
“Last year was more frustrating than anything,” said Harden. “Leaders aren’t built when things are going extremely well. So I had to learn from it. I had to figure out how I could be better individually and how could I grasp my team and bring us a lot closer.
“That’s why I’m more excited about this year, because I’ve learned so much. I’m able to go in with an open mind to just go out and compete at a high level.”