Last year, James Harden and the Houston Rockets found themselves eliminated from the playoffs in the conference semifinals.
Harden has impressed fans with his strength, ferocious step back and ability to get to the basket from anywhere. However, critics have constantly questioned Harden’s defensive ability and effort in the postseason.
During the 2016-17 postseason, it seemed as if Harden ran out of gas or had an out of body experience.
The former Arizona Sun Devil averaged 29 points in his last two NBA seasons. Last season the Rockets brought in former Suns coach Mike D’Antoni, who is an offensive genius.
The addition of D’Antoni was a great pick up, however, in the NBA you have to be able to play defense. Let’s not forget the Rockets are in the Western Conference, where they’re multiple offensive powerhouses.
Last season the team averaged 115 points and 25 assists per game. The 2016-17 Rockets could score on anyone and they seemed to be a favorite in the West.
What seemed to be a promising season came to an end after the team choked against the San Antonio Spurs, who lost Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker due to injury.
Every team in the league has a leader or a closer. On paper Harden is the designated leader of the team, but the results of the last two postseasons have caused people to wonder. Since the left-handed guard was drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2009, the guard has displayed offensive brilliance.
But, come postseason the beard tends to pull a scene from “Honey I Shrunk the Kids.” During the 2012 NBA Finals, the five-time All-Star averaged 12.4 points which is good considering that it was only his sophomore season.
The 6-foot-5 guard received a bunch of criticism for choking in the Finals. During the 2012 summer of free agency, the Thunder opted to let Harden walk, which led to him sign with the Houston Rockets.
Now let’s fast forward to the 2015-16 postseason where the Rockets were eliminated in the first round by the Golden State Warriors. Per usual, Harden had an impressive stat line that could fool anyone, but if you watched the series, the three-time All-NBA first team guard struggled.
It seemed liked Harden didn’t want to be on the floor or that the spotlight was too bright. During the series, the California native made poor defensive reads, and passed off on open shots, but that’s normal, I guess.
The Rockets had a well-balanced roster during the 2015-16 season. The roster consisted of James Harden, Dwight Howard, Michael Beasley, Trevor Ariza, Marcus Thorton, Patrick Beverley, Terrence Jones, Corey Brewer, Clint Capela, Josh Smith and Donatas Motiejunas.
In addition to the primary rotation, the team also had Jason Terry, Ty Lawson, Montrezel Harrell, Andrew Goudelock, K.J. McDaniels, Chuck Hayes and Sam Dekker. In 2015, the team was coached by Hall of Famer Kevin McHale, who recently expressed that his former star player was not a leader.
Rumors spread that Harden and Howard did not get along and that it caused a rift in the locker room. At the end of the season, Howard ended up signing with the Atlanta Hawks. Leadership reflects attitude and the beard lacks leadership at times.
Fast forward to the 2016-17 season where D’Antoni made the decision to switch the former Sun Devil to point guard. The decision seemed irrational at first, but when you think about it, Harden already has the ball in his hands more than 50 percent of the time.
Western Conference finals or bust
In the second round, the Rockets faced the depleted Spurs. The series seemed all but won for the Rockets.
Although the red carpet was rolled out for Houston, the team failed to rally together. The former OKC guard seemed gazed, confused, lost and tired. Now everyone could blame D’Antoni for switching him to the one.
If you are the Rockets coaching staff, you were excited with the numbers that Harden put up points and assists wise.
Some fans may find themselves asking if it is fair to give Harden the majority of the blame. With last season in the past, Houston has something to look forward to.
On June 28, 2017 the Rockets acquired Chris Paul and sent Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker and a 2018 first-round pick to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Now that Houston has a true point guard, there is no excuse for 28-year-old. CP3 brings leadership, dedication and grit to the Rockets.
Last season Paul averaged 18 points, nine assists and two steals. The former Clipper will mesh well with head coach D’Antoni. Harden’s new four-year, $228M extension should be enough motivation to show up come postseason.
If Houston doesn’t make it out of the second round of the playoffs, Harden’s legacy and brand could be affected.
Featured image taken by Bruce Hillyer
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