Drained or Delusional? Evaluating James Harden’s Time in Houston

It’s been a little over a month since James Harden’s wish was granted and he was traded from his former team, the Houston Rockets, to his current team, the Brooklyn Nets.  He has since formed a super team in Brooklyn with former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, where he has willingly accepted a lesser role as a scorer and a heightened role as a playmaker and facilitator.  Apparently, this is a welcomed change in responsibilities for the former MVP after years of being one of the most prolific scorers the NBA has ever seen.

Not to be Rude or Anything But…

In a recent interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, Harden expressed how much he relished the opportunity of being the Nets’ primary playmaker and discussed how that compared to shouldering the scoring load over the last eight seasons in Houston.  He stated that the composition of the Brooklyn Nets allows him to best showcase his playmaking abilities as he’s now playing with teammates whose “skillset” can take advantage as opposed to focusing on scoring the ball every single possession down the floor.

If that wasn’t enough to bruise the pride of any player that he played with during his tenure in Houston along with the Rockets as a franchise and organization, Harden went a step further, calling the experience of being the leading scorer for the team night in and night out as “draining.”

Drain You

It’s an indisputable fact that when Harden played for the Houston Rockets, he often had the highest usage rate in the NBA.  As a result, it’s understandable that a player—regardless of stature—can get burned out.  But to say averaging close to 40 points per game is draining, even if it was necessary almost every night to give your team a chance to win, has quite the asinine ring to it.

Harden’s scoring prowess is primarily what catapulted him to superstardom.  It’s what made him an MVP candidate year after year and helped finally secure the accolade for him in 2018.  It’s what earned him three consecutive scoring titles from 2018-2020 and the highest scoring average for one season (36.1 ppg in 2019) since the late, great Kobe Bryant averaged 35.4 ppg in 2005.  It would be interesting to know if he finds any of those achievements draining because that’s what resulted from carrying the scoring load for the Houston Rockets for eight seasons.  Not too bad, right?

It may be safe to bet that Harden would be willing to trade one, some, or maybe even all of those accolades for a championship, and possibly a championship with the Houston Rockets where he would be the best player but that’s not the point.  The point is he’s spinning a narrative that makes it seem as if someone was putting him in a position that made him feel uncomfortable and out of his element.

He’s spinning a narrative that sounds like he didn’t want to be a prolific, mf (remember “mf” stands for “most frequent” … Shaq said so) scorer because he’s really a playmaker/facilitator that would rather lead the league in assists like he’s currently doing in Brooklyn (it should be noted that he also led the league in assists in 2017 with the Houston Rockets, 11.2 per game while averaging 29.1 points… how draining).

Bottom Line

James Harden didn’t do anything in Houston he didn’t want to do.  He had full autonomy to shoot as much as he wanted to, dribble as much as he wanted to, run isolation plays as much as he wanted to, come to practice and attend film sessions whenever he wanted to, etc.  That’s all been well documented.  Thus, if he had preferred to be more of a playmaker than a scorer in Houston, that undoubtedly could’ve been accommodated.  It’s not like Houston didn’t try to pair him with other star players in an attempt to make things a bit easier for him.  Dwight HowardChris PaulRussell Westbrook.

All three were acquired by Houston because of James Harden.  He wanted to play with each of them… until he didn’t.  And whereas Howard couldn’t really lessen the offensive burden for Harden to the degree that Paul and Westbrook were capable of, he was capable of playing the role that Clint Capela would later assume, allowing Harden to orchestrate the offense and average a high number of assists.  It’s also important to note that the supporting cast of players he played with during his years in Houston were not exactly a bunch of scrubs.

P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon, the aforementioned Clint Capela, Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley, among many others, were all very good players who also had the “skillset” that netted Harden several assists via three-point shooting or dunks/layups around the basket.  One could legitimately make the argument that his supporting cast in Houston over the last few seasons may even be a little better than his teammates in Brooklyn not named Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.  Ultimately, James Harden wanted to be ball dominant in Houston; therefore, he was given the green light to do so.  Thus, if he was “drained” every night scoring at a high clip for the Houston Rockets, it was by his design, not anyone else’s.






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