After years of falling short and underachieving, Houston finally has the necessary tools to compete with the rest of the teams in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
You see, as of now, the Rockets' starting lineup is projected to be as follows: Jeremy Lin at the point, Harden at shooting guard, Chandler Parsons alongside Patrick Patterson at the forward spots and Omer Asik at center.
All of these skill sets combined are a recipe for success, as both Parsons and Patterson are due to improve off of last season and Harden gives the Rockets the electrifying presence they were lacking in recent years.
Simply put, Harden adds the best kind of fuel to the Rockets' tank. In a career where he has only started seven of 220 games, Harden has averaged 12.7 points per contest while shooting 44 percent from the floor and 37 percent from downtown. He can score in bunches and change the game with one shot, much like he did in three seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
More importantly, the presence of Harden gives the Rockets a leg up because now they don't have to bank so heavily on the signing of Jeremy Lin.
The Harvard grad was great in a handful of games for the New York Knicks last year, but the run-and-gun style coach Kevin McHale plans on employing is unlike the one of former Knicks and Phoenix Suns coach Mike D'Antoni.
Where D'Antoni's offense lets the point guard run the show, McHale's is more likely to let Lin and Harden share most of the duties, with Parsons chipping in when necessary. Nothing against Lin's skills, but he struggled mightily on offense during the preseason, shooting a horrific 28 percent from the floor as he appeared to be trying to do to much.
Plus, having a disgruntled Kevin Martin on the floor probably didn't help matters, either, not to mention that most of the reserves on Houston's roster are defense-oriented players.
That said, apart from giving the Rockets a reliable star whose playoff experience can help get them back in contention, Harden also prevents Lin's heavily back-loaded contract from looking like a mistake. He can now be the face of the offense and with his point guard sharing the ball accordingly, Houston can become a balanced team that runs both a fast-paced offense and also plays some tough defense, thanks to Asik being a rebounding machine at center.
However, while Harden and Lin are sure to be a fine tandem, it will be even more exciting to see how Harden plays with rookie forward Terrence Jones, who can be an explosive player on both ends of the floor.
The former Kentucky Wildcat has great size at 6'9", 252 pounds, but just how much playing time he'll receive is unclear. Either way, he plays with the same kind of tenacity as Harden's former Oklahoma City teammate, Serge Ibaka, except Jones does more than just dominate on defense. Seeing as how well Harden and the 6'10" shot-blocker played together, the possibilities are endless with Jones.
More importantly, Jones has the versatility to do well in a run-and-gun system despite being more of a defensive player. His jump shot has improved immensely and he's a great dunker, so he can easily become the same type of forward that Shawn Marion was when playing for Mike D'Antoni in Phoenix.
Thus, while $80 million may seem like a lot of money for someone who's spent practically his entire career as a bench player, Harden is well worth it. He averaged 31.4 minutes per game last year and posted 16.8 points, shooting an unbelievable 49 percent from the field and 39 percent from long range.
If Houston doesn't succeed with him in the starting lineup, then there's clearly something wrong with McHale's coaching.
Harden is one of the league's best and Houston fans may finally have a reason to smile again once he and his new teammates get the ball rolling this year.
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