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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Total comments: 18
  • Buckko says 4 months ago Jones would need to improve his shot greatly for the spacing needed for that lineup.
  • Steven says 4 months ago If T Jones becomes pre-Kardashian Lamar Odom, I'd be one happy fan.

    I wish McHale would go old school Boston Celtics (Parish McHale Bird)/ 94 Houston Rockets (Hakeem Thorpe Horry), and give T Jones some run at the 3 with D-Mo and Howard/Asik on the court. The lineup of Bynum Gasol Odom was the reason the Lakers won their last set of championships, defensively speaking.

    Offensively D-Mo and Jones run to the corners/ back cuts, Harden/ Howard pick and roll with Canaan (Beverly) setting up for the open three at the wing.

    I'd just like to see it for 10 minutes one game, just to see if it would work.
  • ClutchCityFan says 4 months ago

    Also a long time reader and first time poster. I have been reading almost daily for years. Everybody here does a really great job and I love reading the comments because for the most part there are very intelectual comments, debates and discussions that take place. Had to mention that before getting to the relevant part.

    First of all I do think Harden is a little underrated. And Im saying that as a guy who finds himself often being the one that underates him. He is the kind of guy that sometimes watching his games I don't realilze how much he has impacted the game till I look at the stats. I think that his hero ball and lack of defense early in the season really did hurt him but this is his second season as a starter and being the focal point of every defense every game. I think he is still figuring out what his game needs to be now. I have noticed an increase in defensive intensity and him making a conscience effort to get everyone more involved and that is great to see. I don't think its fair to place the GOAT tag/expectations on Harden. If it happens then it happens. Is it possible? Absolutely. Is it likely? Probably not and thats ok. I do think he has all the tools have a HOF career though. Before we get to any of that talk though we should focus on short term goals. Does he have what it takes to LEAD our team to a Championship? He has stepped up to the plate better than I could have ever imagined so far. I will be the first to admitt that while I was happy when we signed him I had questions not on his ability but more on his leadership and being able to be the face of the franchise. I still had a bad taste in my mouth for his dissapearing act against the Heat in the finals. I remember being amazed during the WCF and his play against the Spurs and thinking that it was his play that was the difference maker in that series and then the Finals happened. Can he be the guy that can pull our team through a slump during a game or a series even? All of this happens on the way to a HOF career and if the answers are yes (I really think and hope they are) then we can proceed from there.

    Terrance Jones is very interesting to me. His stock has been rising very fast in just his second year. It would be unrealistic to expect him to continue to improve at the pace he has this year. Is it time to sell high? I think everyone agrees that for the "right" piece he would almost have to be a part of a trade. If we dont sell can his game grow enough that he becomes the third piece to our own big three? I sure hope so but idk if I have seen enough to have those expectations of him. Do we have enough time to wait on him and see? Dwight isn't old but with back problems we may not how how many years we truly have with him playing at a high level. In my opinion our best chances for a title are next year and the year after while BOTH Howard and Harden are in their 20's. That's not saying that we can't win 3 or 4 years from now just that our best chances are the next 2 years. Should we go for broke and basically go "championship or bust" in the next coming years and if so is T. Jones a Rocket while we do so?

  • Buckko says 4 months ago Terrence jones is very young so he does dominate the bad teams with his energy, talent, and athleticism, but like I said being young he doesn't have the experience to contend with the top big men in the league. Don't be so quick to nail jones to the wall, he's a sophomore who spent his rookie season in the D-league, basically making him an nba rook. Give it time.
  • myjohnlai says 4 months ago

    Congratulation! You did that again.

    Harden has just finished the Denver game shooting 1-9, 0-4 for 3s.

  • thejohnnygold says 4 months ago

    Folks, folks: I'm pretty sure Durant and James were the "GOAT-candidates" RH is talking about. As in, Harden is great, but it's hard to see it when you have one or both of LBJ and KD putting up historic games most nights. Reading it the other way is to say Huq doesn't think Harden is recognized because of Dwight- that's so far out of line with what else he's written that I'd need more than a vague pronoun to get worked up over it.

    Having re-read the original post, I have to agree with you. It does appear he is referring to James and Durant. For some reason I presumed he meant Howard and Harden. :)

    It does make more sense that way; although, my previous sentiments stand that having fun and imagining a path where Harden winds up in that conversation is not out of the realms of reality....yet ;) .

  • BenQueens says 4 months ago

    Folks, folks: I'm pretty sure Durant and James were the "GOAT-candidates" RH is talking about. As in, Harden is great, but it's hard to see it when you have one or both of LBJ and KD putting up historic games most nights. Reading it the other way is to say Huq doesn't think Harden is recognized because of Dwight- that's so far out of line with what else he's written that I'd need more than a vague pronoun to get worked up over it.

  • thenit says 4 months ago

    I think there are two different perspective of Harden. "Geeks" as rahat referred to do appreciate Harden and ranks him about right at the 4-5 spot behind CP3, KD and LBJ. Play by play announcers are just clueless and they like to talk up any player who they are calling. Rarely do they talk about weaknesses. Last night they were talking about Asik's size and that they need to double team him in the post LOL that was just funny and that he had some post presence. Shaq thought that T Jones has a great post game which is laughable. T Jones is great but doesn't have a great post game. The old school announcers and color commentators in the studio rarely watches enough games of a certain team that they know more of the strength of players and weaknesses. You are better of listening to local broadcasts because the announcers calls every single game for that team and you get a better picture of what they are good at and bad at.

    Harden is currently in the top 10 conversation its all subjective. But as GOAT is also subjective, my honest opinion is that he might be one of the greatest SG if he keeps this up statistically but people like to Romanizes about Kobe. However he won't even be in the conversation as the GOAT of this generation with Lebron and Durant, andyou still havea few others to contend with like Davis. So he is both overrated and underrated depending onwho you are listening to on broadcasts and forums.

  • NorEastern says 4 months ago

    Applause. I too have heard announcers sell Harden short. If Harden remains injury free he will be a sure fire HOF player. And that is good enough for me.

    Jones however is a mystery. He is exactly how you describe him. He feasts on bad teams and disappears against good teams. If he cannot dominate an opponent athletically he just slips into the background. I wonder if he is yet another 6'9" PF that Morey will sell high. I can see him used as trade bait this summer. Is Jones, like Bev, a product of the Rockets personnel and system? I believe so. If not paired with a dominant defensive center and a dominant SG to pull the defensive focus would Jones be starting in this league? I honestly do not believe so. He somehow is seriously lacking on defense and cannot box out rebounding. He probably will never be strong enough to handle the Wests and Randolfs in the league. And he does not have the focus to stay with the Blakes. Certainly the situation bears watching.

    The Rockets hold on the fourth seed is firm. There was a very interesting SI article today contrasting Portland and Memphis as playoff opponents.

    http://nba.si.com/2014/04/08/memphis-grizzlies-portland-trail-blazers-nba-playoffs/

  • Dayak says 4 months ago

    I think people are less likely to acknowledge Harden's offensive brilliance because it is frequently not very fun to watch. The vast majority of NBA fans do not enjoy seeing large numbers of trips to the free-throw line as a result of exaggerated contact. That is Harden's bread and butter, so it's not surprising that it leaves prognosticators with a bad taste in their mouths (if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor). There's a bit of perception lag on his penchant for isolations (he hasn't been doing that quite so much recently), but people don't like that either and that impacts what people think of him too.

    Bottom line: these days evaluation is a combination of stats and eye-test, and while he grades out well on the stats, the eye test is not so kind.

    ST

    http://espn.go.com/nba/statistics/player/_/stat/free-throws/sort/freeThrowPct

    Then how come most of these fans do enjoying Durant's style of play? Harden maybe underrated ATM, but he definitely has a very lil' chance to be GOAT.
  • thejohnnygold says 4 months ago

    Shaqs 3 peat run was probably the most dominant. Hakeem is second and Jordan is 3rd. Just for a three year window.

    Good point....it's debatable. That's the thing. I always preferred Hakeem's guile, finesse, and all-around game over Shaq's brute strength.

  • timetodienow1234567 says 4 months ago Shaqs 3 peat run was probably the most dominant. Hakeem is second and Jordan is 3rd. Just for a three year window.
  • thejohnnygold says 4 months ago

    Agree that Harden's offense is underrated and he's easily a top 6-7 player who, when he's playing average level defense, is probably top 4-5 (outside LBJ/Durant, you'd still need to put Chris Paul over him, after that it's a debate).

    But please please PLEASE let's not ever again talk about Harden's potential for GOAT. Please. Long-time reader, first time poster, but one of the hallmarks of this blog/forum is unbiased level-headedness. Let's not turn this into a Knicks forum. :) Harden will never be the GOAT. 0% chance. That doesn't mean he can't be AN all-time great and help lead the team to a championship someday.

    Welcome to the forum. I appreciate your desire for level-headed discussion. That being said....

    The entire notion of a GOAT is subjective and pointless. What value does it have if not for fans to idolize players. There is no agreed upon measure nor a way to compare across generations--it is merely opinion. That is fine if you believe he has 0% chance of achieving any GOAT status--the odds are in your favor.

    At this point, any insinuation in that direction is just that. The idea is more about potential as he has so very far to go in his career before any kind of grade like that could be truly considered.

    He does have a lot going for him. Given that championships seem to be the main currency of the title "GOAT" I'd say he has as good an opportunity as any to achieve quite a few here. Morey has a proven track record of not only finding/attracting talent--he finds the right talent. He finds players that mesh well together and consistently are greater than the sum of their parts.

    If this group can stay together and grow, while maintaining a strong supporting cast there is no reason to believe we won't be contending for championships for years to come. Some think our window is narrow--I disagree. As Dwight fades, others will be ready to step up and take on the mantle of being Robin to Harden's Batman.

    When it is all said and done, if the Rockets have garnered 4+ championships (it's possible B) ) with Harden leading the way I don't think it is blasphemous to at least mention his name in the conversation--especially since it is nothing but opinion and there will never be an agreed upon GOAT.

    So, to those who find the notion distasteful relish in the fact that you will most likely be proven correct as the play unfolds, but there is no reason to stifle optimistic and joyful fandom. We all know the score. Wilt. Russell. Kareem. Johnson. Bird. Jordan. Bryant. Duncan. Olajuwon (He didn't have a GOAT career, but for about 3 years has another player been more dominant on both ends of the court? Fate denied us a Rockets/Bulls finals...so very unfortunate). Lebron, of course. This is just the short list. I think there are other players who people would say belong in the discussion. That's the thing--Harden has an opportunity--a path--before him that could very well lead this way. That's all. He's nowhere near it yet, but unlike so many that road is still open. That alone says so much.

    It's been said before--many times--that no one saw Jordan coming. He was just a young scorer, an exciting athlete, stuck behind other greats like Bird, Thomas, Johnson, etc....and then things just happened. Who can say what the future holds? For all we know, Victor Oladipo suddenly clicks in a few years and becomes the hyper-athletic reincarnation of Oscar Robertson. It's possible... :)

  • rollinff says 4 months ago

    Agree that Harden's offense is underrated and he's easily a top 6-7 player who, when he's playing average level defense, is probably top 4-5 (outside LBJ/Durant, you'd still need to put Chris Paul over him, after that it's a debate).

    But please please PLEASE let's not ever again talk about Harden's potential for GOAT. Please. Long-time reader, first time poster, but one of the hallmarks of this blog/forum is unbiased level-headedness. Let's not turn this into a Knicks forum. :) Harden will never be the GOAT. 0% chance. That doesn't mean he can't be AN all-time great and help lead the team to a championship someday.

  • Sir Thursday says 4 months ago

    I think people are less likely to acknowledge Harden's offensive brilliance because it is frequently not very fun to watch. The vast majority of NBA fans do not enjoy seeing large numbers of trips to the free-throw line as a result of exaggerated contact. That is Harden's bread and butter, so it's not surprising that it leaves prognosticators with a bad taste in their mouths (if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor). There's a bit of perception lag on his penchant for isolations (he hasn't been doing that quite so much recently), but people don't like that either and that impacts what people think of him too.

    Bottom line: these days evaluation is a combination of stats and eye-test, and while he grades out well on the stats, the eye test is not so kind.

    ST

  • thejohnnygold says 4 months ago

    Harden as GOAT?

    We need an article about how he is overrated now.

    I think he's probably 3rd or 4th right now in the league but GOAT? Good laugh to start the day.

    I don't think anyone is saying he is already....just that if you were to look into the crystal ball a bit based on what we are seeing it is definitely in play--at least for his position--and that accounts for the fact MJ is there. Is it likely? No, but that is true for all players....yet it happens and Harden has what it takes to be in that conversation. T-Mac had enough to get there, but fate had other plans. With Harden we have another chance to sit back and enjoy the ride--wherever it leads.

  • timetodienow1234567 says 4 months ago Harden as GOAT?

    We need an article about how he is overrated now.

    I think he's probably 3rd or 4th right now in the league but GOAT? Good laugh to start the day.
  • thejohnnygold says 4 months ago

    Nice thoughts, Rahat. I agree that Harden has been on an elite level heading into the playoffs...and for some time now. His stepback jumper falls at an amazing rate. In the 4th quarters his veins ice up and he calmly knocks down whatever shot is needed. He's racking up assists. He is in-his-prime-Gilbert-Arenas....but better. If he can maintain, or even somehow improve, this level of play then GOAT is a definite possibility.

    Terrence Jones? You're right. He hasn't handled the big boys yet. Yet. I still maintain that he is essentially a rookie (funny enough, I keep seeing references to him being in his third year. This is false--we should all remember he was taken after Royce White. He spent 90% of his rookie year in the D-League). He has established, as a rookie in my book, that he is already better than all but the best of the NBA's PF's. In a year or two, with some coaching, experience, and maturation I think he develops the ability and consistency to go toe-to-toe with anyone. I like what I see from him. This year will likely find him exposed in one playoff match-up or another, but that's ok. I think next year is when we become what OKC was when they had Harden--a team with a legit Big 4 and a strong supporting cast to boot.

    I wouldn't worry about the talking heads (not that you do). They read stat lines and figure, "Eh, he's chucking threes and getting fouls called....what's so special about that?" Add the perception about his defense and I can see why he slides down the list. Dwyane Wade did this about 10 years ago, but with spectacular defense to boot so people aren't so easily impressed. If he keeps his 4th Q thing going they will notice soon enough. I know Reggie Miller was impressed last night. (and that work was done in just 3 quarters)

    Harden has shot 10-17 from 3 over the last 30 days in the 4th Q. He is 8-11 from his preferred side (the left/center) and 2-6 from the right.

    Overall, he is shooting 44% from 3 during that span, 50% from mid-range, and 54% at the rim. Vorped.com does not give eFG% or TS%, but I'm guessing they are very, very good.

    Lastly, I think the majority of us are in agreement that SA is the team we prefer out of the three above us. It's one of those, "careful what you wish for" things, and it scares me a bit. That's what makes it fun though! I mean, we are asking for the team that was a rebound/missed shot away from being champions last year and have notched this year's best record.... :wacko: I know we took the regular season, but if there was ever a team that the regular season did not apply to it would be them. Hopefully Memphis/Dallas take them 7 games and exhaust them.