Some were wowed by what James Harden did in his Rockets debut, and others were cautiously wowed. "Don't overreact to one game," they'd sagely intone. Well, I would counter that those who warn of overreacting run the risk of underreacting to Harden's 37-point, 12-assist Houston arrival.
"It was against the Pistons," doubters caution. Yes, but in claiming 12 assists, James Harden tallied more dimes than Russell Westbrook did in any game last season, and many of those games came against league dregs.
"Russell Westbrook had plenty of games like that," the skeptics say. According to the "Game Score"statistic on Basketball Reference, a stat that compiles all of a player's numbers into an aggregate rating, Westbrook only had one game in each of the last two seasons better than Harden's Rockets debut.
Considering that Oklahoma City has essentially made a choice in favor of Russell Westbrook over James Harden, I would be a little concerned on their behalf. Harden delivered such a transcendent performance in his first game that it would be bizarre for it to just stand alone as a random event. What I'm saying is, it would be flukey for this to be a fluke. Harden likely showed that he's going to be a star in Houston.
Harden just needed a chance. Long stuck on the bench for inexplicable reasons, Harden was deadly efficient with the minutes and possessions he was given. If you looked at the numbers, you saw a player who was superstar productive in a role player's role.
Harden managed 16.8 points on only 10.1 shots per game. Some credited that efficiency to playing with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but the numbers say otherwise. As ESPN's John Hollinger pointed out, Harden was at his best when Durant and Westbrook were on the bench.
So now, the shot-starved 23-year-old finally gets the reins. It shouldn't be a surprise that he flourished early. Harden plays the pick-and-roll expertly, but OKC lacks good big men to run it with. For all his offensive deficiencies, Omer Asik is a fine pick-and-roll partner.
Not only does James Harden have, perhaps, a better pick-and-roll buddy, but he can run the action from almost anywhere on the court. No longer is he stuck off to the side as Russell Westbrook dribbles. In a limited sixth-man role, Harden did all he could to prove he deserved better. Now he's rewarding the Rockets for their faith.