ROUNDBALL DAILY

Mike D’Antoni has Made James Harden Great Again

Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) drives to the basket past San Antonio Spurs center Dewayne Dedmon (3) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) drives to the basket past San Antonio Spurs center Dewayne Dedmon (3) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

He didn’t give speeches to Rockets fans about going back to the glory days (you know, back when NBA players were mostly American and Hakeem Olajuwon anchored himself in the paint like some kind of giant border wall).

He didn’t wear a red hat, or insult a wide variety of ethnic and social groups while answering press conference questions with his hands and using words like “bigly.”

But in one way, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has set forth the same kind of difference-making policy change that President-elect Donald Trump allegedly envisions for America.

He’s made James Harden great again.

After a frustrating 2015-16 season in which he burned through possessions as well as teammates’ patience, Harden looks like a changed man on offense.

D’Antoni successfully pitched him the idea of playing point guard, and through nine games, he’s doing it just about as well as anybody in the league.

The Beard is averaging 30.0 points, 13 assists and 8 rebounds per game. That assist number is incredible–it’s up from 7.5 last year–which was a career high then. And it’s downright jarring when you look at it next to his point total.

The man has been responsible for approximately 60 points per game–more than anybody else in the league. It’s not really that close, save for Russell Westbrook, who’s averaging 32 ppg and 10 apg (about 56 per).

As TNT’s David Aldridge pointed out, Harden’s numbers are so impressive, they’reTiny Archibald-esque. They’re damn near Oscar Robertson-esque, actually.

Sure, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, and sure, scoring is up league-wide (just look at DeMar DeRozan and his 34 ppg). But the change in Harden’s mentality has been extremely encouraging. Just watch him in the highlight video below, as he sets teammates up, looks for mismatches and takes advantage when appropriate. He even crashes the boards:

The spacing, along with Harden’s shifty unpredictability and newfound willingness to pass, have made the Rockets much tougher to guard than they were last year, when Harden would either stand at the top of the key and dribble the ball between his legs for 20 seconds before taking a step-back three, or drive to the basket and get fouled.

He wasn’t making anybody better doing that, and he drove Dwight Howard so insane that he ended up signing with the Hawks.

With a focus on making plays both for himself and his teammates, and D’Antoni’s seven-seconds or less offense, Harden’s skill set is put to much better use.

Most importantly, the Rockets are winning games again (they were 6-4 through Monday night), and everybody–No. 13 included–seems more engaged (even on defense).

After last season’s debacle, it’s easy to forget that Harden finished second in MVP voting in 2015, and that the second-seeded Rockets made an appearance in the conference finals. Is this year’s team capable of another playoff run?

It was a bold move to expect Harden to succeed as a playmaker and even more unlikely, a facilitator, but it’s paid off nicely for D’Antoni so far.

So yup, James Harden is great again.

Your turn, America.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *