HOUSTON - So much for a sleepy Saturday night.
With the rest of the basketball world fixated on resting up and getting ready for the start of the regular season, the Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder pulled off an absolute blockbuster of a deal, sending James Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, and Lazar Haywood to Houston in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first round picks and a second rounder.
Stunning is one word for it. Game-changer is another.
After spending the past two years rebuilding on the fly and searching for an All-Star caliber player to serve as a foundation piece, the Rockets finally got their man Saturday night. What do they have in Harden? A 23-year-old shooting guard coming off a season in which he was a gold medal-winning Olympian and the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.
But those things are just titles and honors. It’s what he’s able to do on the basketball court to make himself worthy of such designations that truly makes this acquisition a slam dunk. For starters, Harden is one of the finest offensive players in the game today. There’s literally no aspect of the game on that end of the floor at which he doesn’t excel.
Let us count the ways:
In the pick-and-roll, Harden is downright devastating. Last year he ranked in the league’s 97th percentile in such situations according to Synergy Sports, generating 1.06 points per possession. By the way, that’s better than LeBron James, Chris Paul and Steve Nash. Let that sink in for a moment. And when you recover, please realize that Harden isn’t just someone who excels at creating offense for himself; he’s also a deft passer plenty capable of generating scoring opportunities for his teammates as well.
The Arizona State product is also a foul-drawing machine and dynamite finisher around the rim. Harden converted 70.4 percent of his shots at the rim according to Hoopdata.com – the top mark of any shooting guard in the league last year. And the rate at which he got to the line also places him right at the very top of his position in that category.
Harden is a deadly spot-up shooter, knocking down 39 percent of his shots from beyond the arc a season ago. In fact, in spot-up situations Harden ranked in the 93rd percentile in the NBA last year, generating 1.158 points per possession.
Oh, and go figure: All those threes, free throws and layups he creates add up to a ridiculous true shooting percentage of 66% - the fourth best figure in the entire league.
By now you should get the picture: Harden is an offensive machine. But just in case you need a little more perspective into the myriad things he can do on the offensive end, here’s a little more of a sampling courtesy of Synergy: In isolation situations, he ranks in the league’s 95th percentile; in dribble hand-offs, 95th percentile; coming off screens, 97th percentile. And on, and on it goes.
Again, it’s worth repeating that the Rockets are getting all of this in a player who just turned 23 two months ago. Pair him with two 24-year-olds in Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons and a 26-year-old Omer Asik and suddenly you have the makings of a rather interesting, and still improving core – to say nothing of the potential possessed by young players such as Patrick Patterson, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Royce White.
To be sure, the Rockets gave up a good deal to get their hands on Harden. But this just in: you don’t acquire All-Star-caliber players who haven’t yet even hit their prime for cheap. Such players are the hardest in all of basketball to land. The Rockets and their fans should know that as well as anyone. When a chance comes along to procure one, you pounce.
That’s what the Rockets did on what was supposed to be a sleepy Saturday night. They woke up the neighbors with news that James Harden is headed to Houston. And if you think for one second that the Rockets are done wheeling and dealing, then you haven’t been paying attention. Rest assured, more moves will be coming in the days, weeks and months to come. A transformative foundation piece has been found, but the house is still being built.
As with any million dollar makeover, the element of the unknown attaches a definite layer of excitement and apprehension to the process. But those blueprints - they sure look a heck of lot more beguiling when a pillar like Harden is added to the mix.