Ranking James Harden's Rockets Debut with Best Performances of Early NBA Season
James Harden made his long-anticipated debut for the Houston Rockets last night, and he couldn't have asked for a better game.
In 44 minutes, he introduced us to a Harden we had never seen in three years in Oklahoma City, scoring 37 points while dishing out an incredible 12 assists and coming away with four steals.
Sure enough, Houston defeated the Detroit Pistons, 105-96.
Harden's performance was just a small slice of what shaped up to be a phenomenal Day 2 of the 2012-13 NBA season. Rookies had phenomenal debuts, and reigning veterans put up amazing numbers in seemingly limited minutes.
In what may have been some of the finest performances of all, big men just took over in the paint and made it clear that while they may not be their team's best, they can still take people to school when necessary.
Thus, while Harden had a great game, his was far from the only great performance last night.
Based on how some of the NBA's finest performed over the season's first two days, fans are in for what is shaping up to be one exciting season.
No. 10: Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers
Stat line: 29 minutes, 6-13 FG, 2-4 FT, 14 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 blocks, 1 steal
The Pacers opened the season at a tremendous disadvantage, as star forward and primary scorer Danny Granger's sore knee will sideline him indefinitely. Without him, their season opener in Toronto went from being a gimme to a game that was completely up for grabs. To bring home the win, defense would have to take control.
Fortunately for Indiana, center Roy Hibbert did a great job by being an absolute beast in the paint. On top of scoring 14 points, the former Georgetown Hoya pulled down nine rebounds and blocked five shots, further proving that he earned the four-year, $58 million extension he signed over the summer.
His effort, combined with 25 points from teammate David West, helped the Pacers to a 90-88 victory in Toronto.
No. 9: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets
Stat line: 29 minutes, 6-12 FG, 9-9 FT, 21 points, 7 rebounds, 1 block, 1 steal
Starting at power forward, he scored 21 points on 6-12 shooting.
However, mere stats don't do Davis' debut justice.
Shooting 9-9 from the foul line, pulling down seven rebounds and not committing a single turnover are all well and good, but they aren't as great as the fact that Davis put up these numbers against one of the league's best teams in San Antonio.
Keep in mind, the Spurs have finished as the top seed in the Western Conference each of the past two seasons and have won three championships since 2003.
Given how a 19-year-old rookie in Davis was able to have such a good game against them, it's safe to say he has a long and productive career ahead of him.
No. 8: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Stat line: 36 minutes, 6-11 FG, 2-3 3P, 7-7 FT, 21 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 steals
Lowry's Raptors may have lost to the Pacers in their season opener, but he still did a great job of keeping his team in the game from start to finish.
In 36 minutes of action, the team's new point guard put up 21 points while registering eight assists. He also pulled down an incredible seven rebounds and had five steals.
The former Villanova Wildcat has always been a great pest, but the number that really stands out here is the rebound total. It's rare that point guards crash the boards so heavily—the last one to do it regularly was Jason Kidd in the prime of his career.
Yet, he was 6'4" and bigger than most of the players at his position.
Lowry, on the other hand, is only six feet tall.
By bringing that type of athleticism to the Raptors, he is going to start bringing the team out of the woods and slowly back into contention.
No. 7: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Stat line: 35 minutes, 7-17 FG, 1-4 3P, 8-8 FT, 23 points, 11 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal
As a high draft pick making your regular season debut, what better way to make an impression than to lead your scrappy team to victory against a veteran squad with tons of champion experience?
Lillard did just this as he showed confidence and poise in his team's season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers.
In Portland's 116-106 victory, the No. 6 pick scored 23 points and dished out 11 assists, doing a fine job of mixing up his shots as he went 7-17 attempts and was a perfect 8-8 from the free-throw line.
However, Lillard's regular season debut was not without issues, as he also committed six turnovers.
Despite that, Lillard's first game was special in that he proved that he can balance his scoring with his distribution. Keep in mind, in four years at Weber State, he averaged 18.4 points and just 3.4 assists per game, and most of his field goal attempts came from beyond the arc.
Of his 17 shots yesterday, only four were attempted from long range.
Clearly, the man has adjusted to the professional level well.
No. 6: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Stat line: 34 minutes, 10-15 FG, 4-5 FT, 24 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks
Duncan is 36 years old, and though he used to be a lock for great numbers in points, rebounds and blocks, age has finally caught up with him.
Over the past two seasons, the four-time champion has averaged just 14.4 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. Those numbers aren't bad, but he has posted averages of 20.3 points, 11.3 boards and 2.2 blocks for his career.
In the Spurs' season opener against the Hornets, however, it was as though the Duncan of the early 2000s was back. In his team's 99-95 victory, Duncan logged 34 minutes and scored 24 points while grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking three shots.
Granted, the odds of Duncan putting up numbers like that night after night for the rest of the season are slim.
It still served as a great reminder to the fans he still has the abilities to take control of a game when need be—and handily too.
No. 5: Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers
Stat line: 37 minutes, 3-7 FG, 3-3 FT, 9 points, 23 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 blocks
Cleveland forward Anderson Varejao, long considered one of the game's better defenders, took advantage of a young and John Wall-less Wizards team and thus put himself in the running for an NBA Player of the Week award.
The 6'11" Brazilian only scored nine points, but dished out nine assists, blocked two shots and pulled down an absolutely mind-blowing 23 rebounds. Even more amazing was that 12 of them were off the offensive glass, constantly keeping the Cavaliers in the game en route to a 94-84 victory.
Thus, say what you may about Varejao being injury prone, a flopper, etc.
When he's in the zone on defense, he's one of the best.
No. 4: Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers
Statline: 30 minutes, 10-14 FG, 3-7 3P, 6-8 FT, 29 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal
Crawford spent last season with the Portland Trail Blazers and it was a year to forget. He averaged just 13.9 points per game, shooting a below-average 38 percent from the field and 30 percent from long range. Thus, after signing with the fast-paced Clippers over the summer, it was clear he was out to redeem himself.
The 2010 Sixth Man of the Year did just that in his team's 101-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, logging 30 minutes and scoring 29 points on 10-14 shooting, including 3-7 from long range. The highlight of his evening was an ankle-breaking move against Memphis' star forward Rudy Gay.
However, the most amazing part of Crawford's night is as follows. All of the numbers he posted were off the bench.
No. 3: LeBron James, Miami Heat
Stat line: 29 minutes, 10-16 FG, 2-4 3P, 4-5 FT, 26 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals
LeBron James is the reigning MVP and the best all-around player in the NBA, so it's rare that he ever logs anything less than maybe 35 minutes a game. However, in Miami's 120-107 victory against the Boston Celtics, leg cramps limited him to 29 minutes and he missed most of the second half.
However, in typical James fashion, the former No. 1 pick made the most of his time on the court. He scored 26 points on 10-16 shooting and pulled down 10 rebounds with three assists and two steals.
Had he played the 37.5 minutes he averaged last season, there's no telling just what his final stat line would have been.
No. 2: James Harden, Houston Rockets
Stat line: 44 minutes, 14-25 FG, 4-10 3P, 5-6 FT, 37 points, 6 rebounds, 12 assists, 4 steals
Considering how he only spent a few days with the team before suiting up for its season opener and didn't have the luxury of a full training camp and preseason with his new teammates, it's amazing how incredible Harden's Houston Rockets debut was.
Normally a scorer off the bench, he was inserted right into the starting lineup by coach Kevin McHale and showed that he could do more than just score points.
In the blink of an eye, a season that was initially headlined by Linsanity turned into one about fearing the beard as Harden showed that he was not just an excellent scorer, but also a playmaker. In 44 minutes, he scored 37 points on 14-25 shooting while also having six rebounds, four steals and an incredible 12 assists.
Considering how Harden only averaged 3.7 assists per game in college and just 2.5 on the NBA level, it was great to see this new side of him come out. His proving that he's more than just a shooter and capable of leading a team in the starting lineup bodes well for the 23-year-old as he will play an instrumental role in getting the Rockets back into regular playoff contention.
No. 1: Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
Stat line: 40 minutes, 6-12 FG, 11-12 FT, 23 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, 5 steals
With Derrick Rose out indefinitely as he recovers from knee surgery, it is essential the Bulls' frontcourt step up throughout the season until the 2011 MVP comes back. Though the usually disappointing Carlos Boozer came through with 18 points and eight boards in the team's opening game against the Sacramento Kings, the real hero in the Windy City was center Joakim Noah.
A five-year veteran, Noah has always been a solid defensive presence for the Bulls, averaging 8.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks for his career. Against Sacramento, however, it was as though he was a different type of player.
In 40 minutes—far more than the 27 per game he's averaged for his career—Noah scored 23 points and made 11 of his 12 free throws. He also grabbed 10 rebounds, three blocks and an astounding five steals. Simply put, he was doing it all en route to having the best early season performance in the NBA.
If he can maintain this type of production in Rose's absence, then the Chicago fans need not worry about their team's production.