If Kobe Bryant represents the old generation of dynamic shooting guards, then James Harden represents the new. Both players are multi-talented, from scoring points to playing defense to even creating plays for their teammates. However, Harden is still just 23 years old and still has a lot to learn about being a team leader.
Enter a fine team leader in Bryant, who has simply done it all in his career. He has won five championships, two scoring titles, an MVP award, been named to 14 All-Star teams, nine All-Defensive First Teams, and much more. He has been the alpha dog in Los Angeles for a long time, and will one day enter the Hall of Fame as one of the best of all time.
Harden has not reached that level yet, but he certainly can. Once he fully adjusts to his role as star in Houston, the possibilities will be endless as to how far he can go in his career.
In fact, just by looking at what his Olympic teammate Bryant has done in 16 seasons, Harden can learn a lot about what it really means to be both the best player and leader on a team.
Bryant may be best known as one of the NBA's best scorers, but he can also hold his own in the playmaking department. He has averaged just 4.7 assists for his career but can go into selfless mode when need be. This season, ironically against Harden's Houston Rockets on November 18, Bryant registered 11 assists in a 119-108 victory.
This type of play is not the norm for Bryant, but he can break it out every once in a while and usually does a good job of creating plays for his teammates.
Harden has not been afraid to pass the ball this year. In his first game with Houston, he dished out 12 assists while also scoring 37 points, and it looked as though he was going to be the perfect combo guard for the Rockets. Sadly, that type of play has been inconsistent.
Granted, Harden has averaged 6.8 assists over his last five games, but his passing game has come and gone all season long. Some nights he'll be the scoring playmaker that he was in Oklahoma City, and other nights he'll just be in scoring mode.
Bryant isn't the best example of a passing shooting guard, but he is good enough at it for Harden to use his play as an example to follow. Just trusting one's teammates every once in a while can lead to victory, and the man who does that becomes a better player as a whole.
More importantly, they become a good leader in the process, which is the key to Harden and the Rockets succeeding in the long run.
Bryant is one of the NBA's best scorers, but his approach to the game can sometimes be frustrating to watch. He has gotten so used to being the alpha dog that he'll often play selfishly, which has been the Lakers' problem on offense for the past two seasons.
Look at it this way. In Los Angeles' loss against the Orlando Magic on December 2, Bryant took 27 field goal attempts, of which he made 12. Factor in that those 27 attempts were more than twice the amount Metta World Peace and Dwight Howard took, at 13 apiece, and the problem becomes obvious.
Contrastingly, Bryant's taking over on offense has been the key to some of the Lakers' wins. Against the Phoenix Suns on November 16, he scored 31 points on 10-of-24 shooting. He was first in field goal attempts that night, followed by World Peace and Howard, who each had 14.
The point is that Bryant knows he is the best player on the Lakers, which can be a blessing and a curse. On one hand, his lack of trust in his teammates sometimes sinks the team. On the other, he knows that he is a talented enough player to be able to carry the team in the long run and make the harder shots nobody else wants to take.
Harden needs to look at Bryant's playing style and realize that it's OK to just go into scoring mode, but only when necessary. He needs to trust his teammates but also not shy away from opportunities.
It is all about finding the balance, and once Harden does just that, he'll be well on his way to becoming the best man in Houston.
Though their legendary feud may not suggest it, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal have a lot for which to thank each other. O'Neal was the perfect go-to guy for the Black Mamba, using his great size and dominating nature to control the paint and help the Lakers win three consecutive championships.
Harden needs to form a similar on-court relationship with his center, Omer Asik (pictured). The Turkish seven-footer is currently third in the league in rebounding, averaging 12.3 boards per game. His scoring has been respectable at 11 points per contest, but he could be doing a bit more.
Look at it this way. Houston plays a run-and-gun offense which calls for the center/big man to be able to play the pick-and-roll well. If Harden is in playmaking mode, his first look should not be to Chandler Parsons or Patrick Patterson, but to Asik. The man has proved that he can be a force above the rim, yet he only averages 8.4 field goal attempts per game.
That number isn't bad by any means, but it cannot hurt for Harden to get his center more involved. The more dangerous Asik is, the more dangerous the Rockets will be.
Just by watching tape of the glory years of O'Neal and Bryant, this lesson will sink in quickly.
Bryant may be best known as a scorer, but his defense is also a big part of his game. He has averaged 1.5 steals per game for his career and has been named to nine All-Defensive First Teams.
Being committed to defense has made Bryant not just a better player but a complete one that will be remembered for years to come. So many players today (i.e. Monta Ellis, Carmelo Anthony, etc.) are so committed to scoring as many points as possible that they sacrifice defense as a result. While talented, these players are one-sided and missing a part of their game that can make them even better.
Harden has not abandoned his defense at all this year. In fact, he's averaging 1.7 steals per game. The only problem is that he appears to pick and choose just when he plays defense.
The fact is that if Harden is to be the alpha dog in Houston, he needs to be fully committed on both ends of the floor. That is how Bryant became great, and Harden must follow the same example if he wants to be known as more than a scorer and shooter.
Looking at Harden's shot chart, you'll notice that a majority of his attempts come from two places. Either behind the three-point line or under/above the basket. Harden has a mid-range jumper, but he rarely uses it.
Unless he starts having faith in his mid-range shot, Harden will never be a true alpha dog.
Now, what do these two types of baskets have in common? Not only do they put points on the board, but they make the fans jump out of their seats and go crazy. As good as Harden is at doing that, he cannot become overly reliant on both approaches, lest he want his game to become predictable.
This is the next big step for Harden. He needs to start trusting both himself and the ball in between the paint and the three-point line. He has a natural scoring touch to begin with and can become an even better player once he utilizes a mid-range jumper.
Throw in the fact that Bryant has only averaged 3.9 three-point attempts out of 19.5 field goals for his career compared to Harden's four out of 9.2, and the reigning Sixth Man of the Year will see just how easy it is for him to slowly get into that same league of players.