ESPN completed sharing their #NBARank project yesterday where they have all of their NBA writers and bloggers give every player in the NBA a grade from 1-10.
With no surprise, LeBron James came in first overall with Kevin Durant second. Also in the top five were Russell Westbrook (5), James Harden (4) and Chris Paul (3).
Does this mean the Thunder really could have three of the top five players in the NBA right now?
I said before the Harden trade during his last season with OKC that he would soon become the best shooting guard in the NBA. A lot of people think he has become that now after one season as “the man” for the Rockets.
The question is: would Harden have earned this reputation by now had he stayed in OKC?
We know that Harden would not have put up the same numbers in OKC last year that he did in Houston. But I do think that the numbers he could have put up in OKC could have been nearly as impressive.
Harden is known for his efficiency. His PER was 23.0 last season and 21.1 with OKC the season before. He averaged 25.9 points, 5.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds in 38.3 minutes per game last year.
Harden averaged 6.9 more minutes per game in Houston last year than he averaged the season before. In the increased playing time and role, he took 7.0 more field goals per game, made 2.5 more per game, took 4.2 more free throws per game and made 3.6 more per game. His assist percentage jumped from 19.3 to 25.7 while his rebound and turnover percentages stayed just about the same.
Overall, Harden definitely took advantage of more opportunities. The increased field goals he attempted, he made a lesser percentage of, but the mentality of shooting more resulted in many more free throw attempts and assists, while not turning the ball over more.
Harden would have most likely seen a small bump in minutes per game last year had he stayed with the Thunder, too. It wouldn’t have been the same but I think this is safe to assume. I highly doubt his field goal percentage would have gone down from 49.1 to 43.8. He probably would have been able to keep his super efficient true shooting percentage, which was one of the best in the league in 2011-12.
Harden would have still come off the bench in OKC and the Thunder probably would have challenged the Heat for the best record in the NBA. Had the Thunder trio been together and stayed healthy last year, it is very easy to argue they could have beaten the Heat team that made it to the Finals.
Harden probably would have easily won the Sixth Man of the Year Award, and I think he could have gotten close to averaging 20 points per game, and probably upped his assists to over four as well.
Team success would have been very important for Harden to rise in the #NBARank had he stayed with the Thunder, because his numbers in terms of totals just wouldn’t have come close to what he did in Houston.
I imagine he could have easily still been same as superior to Dwyane Wade after last season, as well as Kobe Bryant. But probably not by everybody and that is the key here. He would have been flying under the radar much more than he did in Houston.
While Harden I believe would have improved just as much by staying in OKC last year, he wouldn’t have been ranked as highly.
I’m all for rewarding players who do more because it is just so much easier to be efficient when not having to carry the team load.
Would OKC have had three top five players if Harden stayed last year? I think so, but I’d be one of the few feeling that way.