In what will easily be the beginning of a great on-court relationship with point guard Jeremy Lin, Harden showed an effortless ability to create plays and be a force on defense, dishing out 12 assists and having four steals on top of his 37 points.
Needless to say, this is just the kind of player the Rockets need to succeed in the standings.
The fact is that while Harden was great in Oklahoma City, the collective presence of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook kept him from reaching his full potential. While he did improve in each of his three seasons with the team, his coming off the bench wouldn't have allowed him to be the explosive scorer he was at Arizona State.
Now that he's in Houston, Harden has a great opportunity to be the go-to guy for a young, up-and-coming franchise that ended up just two games shy of a playoff berth last season.
He replaces Kevin Martin, a fine scorer who preferred to pick his own shots and run his own offensive game when he wasn't spending time on the bench with injuries.
Having spent his entire career thus far in Oklahoma's balanced, team-first system, this makes Harden all the more valuable to Houston's success in the future. Though he was certainly capable of taking control of the offense whenever he had the ball and lighting up the scoreboard, he instead opted to let his point guard be in control and let himself either get open for a three-pointer or into position for an amazing dunk.
As a result, Harden was able to grow as a player and become all the more effective. As the Thunder's sixth man last season, he averaged 16.8 points per game while shooting an incredible 49 percent from the floor and 39 percent from three-point range.
That being said, it is all the more great that Harden and Lin appeared to work well together during the team's victory over the Detroit Pistons. Lin was signed to a three-year, $25.1 million deal over the summer after breaking out with the Knicks last season, and before GM Daryl Morey acquired Harden, the plan was for the Harvard grad to be the team's leader on offense.
However, a wrench was thrown into that plan, as Lin struggled mightily during the preseason. His passing and defense were fine, but his offense sputtered, shooting just 28 percent from the floor. At the time, it looked as though Linsanity was coming to a grinding halt.
Instead, it is just experiencing a new beginning now that Harden is in the picture. His three years in Oklahoma City helped groom him for becoming the face of a franchise and it showed throughout the game against Detroit. He created plays off the dribble, was able to create his own shot and looked great playing with Lin, who logged 12 points and eight assists on the night.
The fact is that now that he is in Houston for the long term, having inked a five-year, $80 million extension, Harden gives the Rockets what they had been lacking for years: a leader who can be more than just a locker room guy.
Granted, while the numbers in his team debut aren't at all indicative of those he'll post regularly, they are still a good indicator of what fans should expect. Game after game, look for Harden to continue developing his relationship with Lin and mixing and matching what he does with the ball.
Some nights, he may go nuts in the scoring. Others, he may ease up on taking shots and instead work with Lin to create plays for their teammates.
Either way, the presence of Harden in Houston can only be a good thing. Based on his performance against Detroit, he'll easily help the team launch back into the postseason.
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