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This really is kind of a lovely natural experiment that tests some of the theories basketball nerds love to argue about:
How important is a system in basketball? Does it matter that Kevin Martin is a really nice fit for Scotty Brooks' system? How much? At the one extreme, if the system or Thunder style of play was all that mattered, you'd predict that Martin would contend for sixth man of the year and that Harden would regress to a mediocre player.
Somewhat relatedly, how important is being versatile? How important is being really really good at one thing? Harden basically has one elite skill: he scores a lot of points and doesn't have to take a lot of shots to do it. Defensively he doesn't really scare people (though I think he is underrated here too: for his career he gets a decent amount of steals and rebounds, though he fouls a lot. There is a reason they put him Lebron in the finals - how well he, or anyone, could have done with that assignment is up for argument). He's a good but not great passer. This kid Jeremy Lamb is supposedly more versatile and arguments are being made about him being able to "bridge the gap" between Sefolosha and Harden/Martin for Brooks. How important is that flexibility?
posted by acerock at 01:55 AM on October 29
Also, let me put out a hypothetical. This speaks to the line of argument that Harden is displaying a bad attitude or is selfish for not sacrificing for the sake of the franchise.
Think back to before the summer. If, say during the height of Lin-sanity, there was an NBA team that had a core trio of James Harden, Jeremy Lin, and Omer Asik, would you say that this team had an attitude problem? That this was a collection of selfish players? I think that would be laughable.
Why is it that by default it is the players who should sacrifice money to keep a team together, rather than a billionaire who owns a professional sports team who should sacrifice money (luxury tax) to keep a team together?
The Harden and Lin deals, for example, are perfect examples of this. The contracts OKC and NY offered them, respectively, would NOT have given these teams more flexibility to put together better rosters -- it only makes it so that they wouldn't have to pay the luxury tax.
posted by acerock at 11:07 PM on October 28
Another, different, advanced stat the places Harden firmly in the top 10. Again this is not just per minute, but cumulatively. Even in limited minutes, he adds more "wins" to a team than guys like Kobe, Dirk, Nash and Parker over the course of a season.
Not that the stats make the argument by themselves. I can see Harden becoming less efficient with more defensive attention. But its not like he was just spotting up for corner threes and being left open all the time. He was a creator and he took over games regularly. Took them over. Like, there were times in the playoffs when he was the best player on the court with Durant and Westbrook out there.
So, yeah, I think its possible that he gets "exposed" in Houston. And I realize that he is not a consensus top whatever guy. But that is why we are having this discussion. I think we will see OKC take a big step back this year and Houston surprising some people.
posted by acerock at 10:53 PM on October 28
Thanks! Been lurking for awhile. Allow me to lay out my argument for Harden as a top 10 player. First let's get the consensus top 5 or so out of the way.
Lebron, Dwight, Chris Paul, Durant, Wade, maybe Kevin Love or Rose. Already we're arguing on who gets in. Tyson Chandler? Joakim Noah? Bynum? Griffin? Iguodala? Even Kobe gets a question mark. Carmelo is not in this conversation. And we're not really seeing guards in the conversation. Ginobili and Parker maybe but probably not. Westbrook maybe? I think you'll find plenty of people in OKC who would rather have kept Harden over Westbrook.
All I'm trying to say is that when you break it down, Harden as a top 10 NBA player right now and for the foreseeable future is not crazy-talk, especially when you look at who is starting at SG for NBA teams right now. And look at the "advanced" stats. He's firmly in the top 10 even in somewhat limited minutes. (This is a separate argument, but Hollinger's PER's fatal flaw is that it underrates efficient scorers and overrates volume scorers.)
Totally see your point about the Rockets. I guess 50 is a best-case scenario, but I think Harden (and Asik) makes them at least relevant.
posted by acerock at 09:34 PM on October 28
A lot of spinning going on from Presti's camp, but I cannot see how this is a good deal for OKC. I have heard arguments that Kevin Martin is "stylistically" similar to Harden (efficient scoring guards who are not great on defense), allowing OKC to keep playing Thunder brand basketball. But style does not win you games and Martin is not nearly as productive as Harden, who was one of the most efficient guards in NBA history last season and is only just entering his prime.
So Martin's main value is as an expiring contract. Combine that with Houston's draft picks and it looks like what Presti essentially did was trade Harden for the opportunity to maybe, hopefully land a Harden-level player for a rookie contract in the next few years and fill out the roster with other pieces.
That is a big maybe. Harden, even with his recent rise in popularity, is severely underrated. He is not a top 30 player. He is a top 10 player and maybe higher given how weak the 2-spot is in the NBA right now. And again he is just entering his prime. So maybe Presti did his best with a bad situation (ownership not willing to pay the luxury tax), but maybe he should have traded Westbrook when he had the chance.
And can we really blame Harden? He saw his draft classmates Eric Gordon and Brook Lopez lock up max deals last year and they are nowhere near his level. And he had no guarantees from OKC that they wouldn't move him after he took less money.
As for Houston, Harden immediately moves them out of lottery territory (making those draft picks they gave up much less valuable). If Lin is the real deal (I think he is) and Asik is as productive in a feature role as he was in Chicago, I have no problem seeing this team winning 50 games this season and steadily improving as their young players develop.
posted by acerock at 08:26 PM on October 28
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