James Harden playing larger than life as Rockets continue to roll
HOUSTON - To say James Harden is in a groove right now is approaching ‘gross understatement’ status; kind of like saying Matthew McConaughey has done a decent job choosing roles of late. Both Texas residents are absolutely on fire right now, and neither is showing signs of slowing anytime soon.
Continuing the quirky comparison, both All-Star basketball player and Oscar-winning actor experienced their fair share of growing pains even while tantalizing audiences and critics alike with their considerable promise in early stages of their careers. For McConaughey, we submit to you The Wedding Planner. For Harden, it’s obviously less about one substandard showing than it is concerned with his gradual growth and ever-increasing comfort level with regard to assuming the reins of the Rockets’ offense as its primary perimeter playmaker. That role requires an impeccable sense of timing and feel for what a team needs at any given moment. And while Harden is blessed with an innate sense of such things, that instinct is still one that must be continuously cultivated and refined long before it is ever perfected.
It’s easy to forget the man is just 24-years-old and less than two full years into the job. And yet, the signs of Harden’s maturation have been everywhere of late and made manifest in ways both subtle and spectacular since the start of February. His production during that time is undoubtedly MVP-caliber: More than 27 points per game to go along with 6 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals. He’s shooting better than 49 percent from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc while earning more than 8 free throws per contest. And not surprisingly, the Rockets’ collective play has followed suit, with the club accruing a 17-5 record in that span.
“He’s just in a great flow,” said Houston Head Coach Kevin McHale after Wednesday’s practice. “He’s making great decisions, he’s trusting his teammates. I’ve said it before: he’s the one guy on our team who can make all the passes; he can make the pocket pass, he can make the pass cross-court, he can make the lob late, he can make the drop pass off to the big – he has the ability throw all the passes and a lot of guys in this league don’t have that ability.
“We run a lot of offense through him and he’s been doing a great job of delivering and moving the ball. Our ball movement has been good, our body movement has been better, I think the trust factor has gone up – just a lot of positive things and he’s been involved in most of them.
“You’ve got to understand how hard it is to be a No. 1 option. Teams are coming after you, they’re gearing up to play you, and their first 10-15 minutes of shootaround is dedicated to stopping you – that’s a whole different thing, and he started last year doing this. There were growing pains, and he’s going to get better and better at it. It’s unlike anything else he’s done in his life because this is the first time he’s done it. I’m very proud of him and his willingness to accept things and his willingness to grow.
“That’s a big thing because when your top guy does that I think everybody else kind of follows and the guys are really enjoying playing with each other which makes me feel good when I hear them say, ‘Boy, I’m really having fun playing.’ That’s good. You should, and that’s when you become really good. If every day you came to your job and they pulled a tooth out without any Novocain you probably wouldn’t want to go in there much. We’re not pulling teeth here; we’re trying to have fun playing basketball.”
Suffice to say, there’s been no shortage of joy surrounding the Rockets these days given the way they’ve been playing since the calendar flipped to 2014. They’ve gotten healthy, their stars have gone supernova, and the wins have piled up.
It’s the kind of roll that makes fans say, “Alright, alright, alright.”