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Huq’s Pen: Is James Harden underrated?

  • During a recent nationally televised broadcast–against whom I can’t remember–one of the play by play men said something like “Harden is one of the 10 or 15 best players in the league” and judging by his tone, you could tell he wasn’t fully confident in his assertion.  The other day, I heard a host on local radio muse “it’s getting really hard to name 10 players in the league who are better than Harden.”  Getting really hard?  What am I missing here?  Now, to be sure, prior to the season’s start, ESPN’s panel ranked Harden as the 4th best player in all of basketball, but that panel is composed primarily of geeks like myself so it isn’t really reflective of the conventional wisdom.  So why is the conventional wisdom so down on Harden?  Obviously, his defense is the easy answer, but I’d venture to say that his offense isn’t fully appreciated.  (People who have watched this team day in and day out would agree that Harden’s defense has actually come quite a long way but his struggles early in the year were so widely publicized that he has not been able to recover in the court of public opinion.  As with most things, there is a bit of lag time before public perception catches up with reality and some of the commentary on Harden is reflective of that.  He’s bad but not atrocious as he was earlier.)  If we assumed that if Harden had average-level defense, he’d be considered the 4th best player in the league, then his actual defense should suffice to push him down to like 6th or 7th.  But I think if you asked most mainstream observers, they’d have Harden around 10th or 11th in the league.  That’s insane.  The guy is an offensive juggernaut.
  • Which leads me to my next point.  A big part of why Harden’s greatness offensively isn’t being properly recognized is that, as our own Forrest Walker put it to me on Twitter a few days ago, we are in a period right now where we have, essentially, two GOAT-candidates playing in the primes of their careers.  Let that sink in.  I listen to The Dan Patrick Show on my commute to work every morning and yesterday, some idiot called in ranting some nonsense pertaining to “the greatness of the college game” and “the watered down product of the NBA.”  What?  We’re in the midst of a golden age right now in the NBA.  Why is that so hard for people to accept?  I think it stems from two phenomenons.  For older folks, there’s a sort of contrived snobbery associated with romanticizing the past.  But I think with younger people, there’s a fear that acknowledging the significance of the present can be seen as naive or unsophisticated.  I remember when Rockets fans would say that Clyde Drexler was better than Tracy McGrady or would feel sheepish about opining the inverse.  Nonsense.  McGrady was the far more talented player.

  • Can we just freeze the standings where they are?  On the bright side, at least its looking like facing Memphis won’t be a possibility (a scenario which stood as worst-case), but Golden State slowly encroaching upon the 5th seed is scary, despite our dominance over that team.  As of right now, the standings stand (pun intended) for the best chance of a Rockets trip to the Western Conference Finals, especially with the news of Pat Beverley’s imminent return.  Everyone is saying “whoa, whoa, you want to face the Spurs?”  If the alternatives are Oklahoma City or Los Angeles, then yes, I want to face the Spurs.  I’m not saying I’d favor the Rockets in that series, but I’d at least give them even odds.  
  • Is there anyone alive who, more than Terrence Jones, fastidiously feasts upon pathetic frontcourts while doing nothing against good teams?  Jones carved up the Lakers last night in just three quarters but again, he probably won’t be on the court when it matters in the postseason.  Again, against Oklahoma City the other night, despite having played a solid game up to that point, Jones sat in the 4th as Kevin McHale opted to go small.  This was even without Patrick Beverley in the lineup.  It is just clear that McHale has much more confidence in his smaller players in those sorts of situations.

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About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of Red94.net.

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