Youth Group – ESPN Insider ranked the top 25 players under 25. James Harden ranked no. 4 on the list, his same rank as last year. He was leapfrogged by Anthony Davis, Paul George and Andre Drummond. As you may have guessed by Drummond’s high placement, these ranking are heavily weighted toward potential. About Harden the writers write:
Elhassan: The best shooting guard in the NBA, Harden has taken scoring efficiency to new levels. He gets to the front of the rim almost at will, and if the defense lays back he will seek and destroy from beyond the arc. A deft playmaker who makes his teammates better, Harden’s final frontier is conquering the defensive end.
Thorpe: Harden has taken Kobe Bryant’s place as the player who makes the most “bad” shots, but he still misses the majority of them. On this team, with the weapons he has around him, those just are not necessary. Taking a few more uncontested shots each game and displaying a willingness to play defense more often the way he does expertly on occasion would elevate him to MVP-level status.
Pelton: Players similar to Harden have tended to peak at an early age, often because of injuries. The pounding Harden takes while repeatedly driving to the hoop could take a toll.
Harden is the only Rocket on the list. Remember, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin are both 25, and therefore too old for this one. If Terrence Jones keeps up his current level of production, it’s not hard to imagine him sneaking on to this list next year. More on these rankings in a minute.
Playa From Judea – Omri Casspi makes Henry Abbott’s list of some of the most surprisingly effective defenders in the NBA this season. Check out the numbers:
With Casspi on the floor, the Rockets have given up 94.8 points per 100 possessions, which is almost as good as the league-leading Pacers. When he’s on the bench, the team has given up 104.1 points per 100 possessions, which is pedestrian.
The defensive bottom line is that the Rockets have gotten 9.3 points worse on D when Casspi checks out. The number could be thick with early-season noise, but it’s eye-opening nonetheless.
Abbott also raises the question of whether the team could really get a better value than Casspi from any of the stretch 4’s (Ryan Anderson) that are often bandied about in trade rumors. And that’s a really good question. [read more…]