After forcing himself to leave Houston under controversial circumstances, James Harden’s conditioning, attitude and application were called into question. No more.
A perfect West Coast road trip – 5-0 against the Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns and both Los Angeles teams – doesn’t tell the whole story. Neither does the fact that this is the longest undefeated away run in franchise history. Or that it was done almost entirely without Kevin Durant.
The Brooklyn Nets are finally rolling. The “frightening hours” are upon us. James Harden has arrived in New York.
The less that is said about Harden’s acrimonious departure from the Houston Rockets the better, but it’s worth pointing out that the 2018 MVP has been on the phone every day to provide help to the city as the State of Texas remains in the throes of an electrical disaster, even speaking directly to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.
“I have phone calls everyday, all day, trying to make an impact on the city because they showed me so much love and respect during the time I was there,” said said Harden.
“So I called Houston at my house. It’s devastating obviously. It’s probably worse than the hurricane because we just don’t know how many people were affected, no electricity, no electricity. ‘electricity and can not eat. “
While Harden’s ties to the city that hosted him for nearly a decade remain as strong as ever, it appears he has regained some of his hunger for basketball since his exchange in Brooklyn. His conditioning and demeanor have come under heavy criticism before, during and after the exchange that is expected to shape the NBA landscape for the next few seasons, most notably by his former (albeit brief) teammates John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.
According to reports at the time, both players addressed Harden’s body language and efforts directly in a team meeting. Soon after, Harden made his Brooklyn debut.
With the Nets, Harden looks like himself, although he doesn’t quite pull off the same Herculean scoring performances he became famous for in Houston. His way of playing, still Harden’s major force, regardless of his otherworldly abilities as a goalscorer, stood out again.
He averages 11.3 assists per game – which is comfortably leading the league – and if you only factor in his Brooklyn numbers, he’s also shooting 50% on the field and 40% on three. for the very first time. Not only does this show a renewed focus, but it’s also a healthy by-product of the fact that he no longer carries a team. Harden takes a little less punches than normal, but because of this efficiency, he still averages 25 points per game.
In Houston, each piece lived and died with Harden. There, he became the league’s leading isolation scorer, possibly in league history, and carried the Rockets to eight straight playoff games. Prior to his arrival, they had missed the playoffs three times in a row. With Harden, more than 50 winning seasons were virtually guaranteed.
This, of course, comes at a cost. Ahead of the playoffs, Harden would generally look gassed, his three-point shot would desert him, and his teammates – spoon-fed for much of the regular season – would fail to support their passing superstar. .
It might be a different legacy if Chris Paul hadn’t injured his hamstring with the Rockets 3-2 against the Warriors in the 2017/18 Western Conference Finals. Harden scored 32 in the remaining two games, but without Paul it wasn’t enough. The fact that he did so with low efficiency only underscores this point.
Now Harden seems to have rediscovered the freedom that has always made him the perfect modern guard, equally creative and destructive, from sixth man of the year in OKC to three-time Houston champion.
Against the Suns, Harden brought Brooklyn back from the abyss without Durant or Irving by his side, scoring 38 points and distributing 11 assists as the Nets came back from the biggest halftime deficit in their history: 24 points.
Against the Lakers, everyone’s favorites in the championship, he had 23, five rebounds and 11 assists. Irving was back, but had a quiet night by his standards with 16 points.
And Sunday night against the Clippers, the Nets wrapped up their pristine trip to the West, as Harden tallied 37, caught 11 boards and threw seven assists. In the last play of the night, Harden drew an offensive draw as Kawhi Leonard walked towards the basket, sealing the game for Brooklyn.
It is telling in itself that Harden, a player often ridiculed for his lackluster defense (often mistakenly – he can be a great defender on the ball), was keeping Kawhi Leonard on crucial possession.
Whether the call was incorrect or not, it sounded sweet, but Leonard seemed to push, it was yet another heady, winning game for his team to complete an impressive stretch. The Nets now have the longest winning streak in the league.
While discussions naturally focused on Brooklyn’s porous defense, relatively little was done about how Harden made his transition to the Nets effortlessly. It is already the hub of a great historic offensive, currently the best in modern NBA history.
It seems as comfortable as sharing the ball handling tasks with Irving as a facilitator for the second unit. His fleeting chemistry with Joe Harris, DeAndre Jordan, and role player Bruce Brown was immediate. It’s clear his teammates absolutely love having him there. In Steve Nash, he has the perfect coach to complete his game.
Harden and Nash both played their best basketball and won the MVP award under Mike D’Antoni, who now operates as Nash’s assistant in Brooklyn, which ended it all. They are two men who understand better than anyone what Harden can do for a basketball team.
Whatever people say about his demeanor and diligence, Harden remains the easiest player in the world to train – especially when you’re a whispering leader like D’Antoni, or the man he whispered to, his scholar. “ Seven seconds or less ”. Nash.
Give him the ball. Spread the ground. Define choices. Cut to basket when driving. Do this and inevitably you’ll win a lot more basketball games than you lose. Then comes playoff time, the Nets ask Kyrie Irving to smash defenses instead of Eric Gordon, Kevin Durant as the small ball cross instead of PJ Tucker and Joe Harris to hit three times by threes instead. by Danuel House.
While some seemed to lose sight of Harden’s immeasurable talent as he made his way out of Houston, it’s once again impossible to dismiss or ignore. These are already “scary hours,” as he so poetically calls them, for every other team in the league. Once Durant returns to full health, they will become even scarier.
In the meantime, Harden has the Nets to live up to their impossible billing. For that, he deserves all the credit you can afford.