When the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets a week ago, they couldn’t have imagined the kind of start he would have after two games with his new team.
Harden has led the Rockets to two wins in Detroit and in Atlanta and is averaging 41.0 points, 7.0 assists and 6.5 rebounds in 42.0 minutes per game. He’s also shooting 63.6 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from three and 87.0 percent from the line while attempting 11 free throws per game.
Yes, those are MVP-like numbers.
Don’t look back and have no regrets are hard to do for Thunder fans right now seeing Harden play this well. It’s not as if the Thunder fans should be too surprised by Harden’s play. He’s doing all of the things he did in OKC last year, just for 42 minutes per game and more consistently than ever.
How long will this last for Harden though? Surely he isn’t going to average over 40 points per game this year but is 25 a possibility? Or 30?
Harden is in the perfect system for him right now in Houston and his potential will be maximized by head coach Kevin McHale. He’s also by far “the man” on this roster. Jeremy Lin is probably the second best player and while a very solid player, isn’t near the same level Harden is.
Harden has sensed this too already. He was said to have come to the team, immediately taking on a leadership role he never could have in OKC. When you watch him on the floor, he’s as cool and confident as ever and when he gets the ball always has that, “I’ve got this,” look on his face.
Harden had stretches last year for the Thunder where he was super efficient. He was always efficient for the most part but never quite like what we’re seeing from him in Houston so far.
For all of Harden’s talent, he doesn’t do a lot of different things on the basketball court. He just does a handful of things extremely well. He can knock down threes from the wings and top of the key with ease. He can read what play to make in the pick-and-roll as well as anyone in the league. When he gets momentum going to the rim, he can use that Eurostep to side-step defenders almost every time and get a high percentage look at the rim, where he shot 70 percent from last season.
Harden lacked a midrange game last year and it either met he would be driving to the rim or taking a three. The great defenses knew this and would aim to take the ball out of his hands in the pick-and-roll, doubling him essentially when he came off the pick.
Harden hasn’t seen a great defense yet, definitely not in Detroit, but Atlanta isn’t too bad. He has also showed some signs of developing a midrange game that will do nothing but open up the rest of his offense.
Harden should be expanding his game this season which will open up the window a little bit longer for him to play at the level he has in the first two games this year. But defenses will start to figure him out a little more. They’ll start to figure Houston out and how to stop the dynamic of Harden-Lin.
For every great stretch Harden had last year, he would also have stretches where he slumped, most notably in the NBA Finals. It always came against the best defenses, Miami, Indiana or even Memphis.
Harden’s numbers will calm down this year too but 25 points is easily in range for him, maybe even more. He’s playing basically 11 minutes more per game this year and sustaining the same efficiency he had last year and then some. The Rockets look very much like a potential playoff team this season if they can stay healthy and Harden can keep this up.
Thunder fans want to move on from the Harden trade and Kevin Martin has played well so far for them. But it’s impossible for what Harden’s doing in Houston to go unnoticed. These numbers are just too gaudy.
Until Harden comes back down to life, Thunder fans will be still be left thinking: “What if?”