When the Houston Rockets acquired shooting guard James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder, many expected stardom. The Bearded One has responded to those lofty expectations by posting averages of 23.6 points and 5.4 assists per game.
Even still, Harden's biggest value to Rockets isn't on the court.
For the first time since the Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming era, the Rockets appear to have a star. This is the primary function Harden will serve in Houston, as his ability to draw defenders and free agents alike, will outweigh his on-court production.
A fortunate truth considering he's shooting 25.5 percent from the floor over his past three games on an average of 17.0 shot attempts.
Harden acknowledged that he will be attempting to draw players to sign with the Rockets during an interview with KGOW in Houston. He even admitted that the recruiting process had already begun. Something Harden believes is a necessary step "to win a championship."
“Of course,” Harden said when asked if it’s on him to recruit players to Houston. “I’ve been starting that recruiting process. One player is not going to win a championship. Nowadays, you need two or maybe more. I’ve definitely started the recruiting process. We need more guys to come over here, so we can win. For right now, we are going to stick with the players we have and try to run with that.”
Harden is on point with his evaluation of the current state of the NBA. Championship contenders are only as good as their weakest link, which displays the need for multiple stars on one roster.
With that being said, one can only imagine that these comments will rub a few within the organization the wrong way. After all, the time to speak on a change in personnel is not in-season.
It's during the offseason.
Fortunately, Harden cleared up his remarks and stated his belief in the Rockets' current core of players. He acknowledged the need to build team chemistry and even offered up praise for embattled point guard Jeremy Lin, one of the players who could be a part of the star combination Harden is speaking of.
“I think our chemistry is definitely building every single day between the practices and the games, so I think a few more weeks and we’ll be together on the same page a lot of times,” Harden said. “It’s going pretty well.”
“He’s done a great job,” Harden said of Lin. “It’s his first year, too, as a starting point guard, and starting the year off as a point guard, so we both have a lot to learn together. He’s a great player. He can create on the ball and shoot the ball as well. He’s a great point guard.”
As Harden stated, the Rockets' number one flaw has been their lack of team chemistry. This has resulted in an average of 16.3 team turnovers per game, which has been fueled by Harden's mishaps.
Although Lin is shooting the ball poorly, he is averaging just 2.8 turnovers per game. Harden's number, meanwhile, sits at 4.1 per game, thus reflecting of how difficult it has been for The Bearded One to adjust to his role as the go-to player. A role he has both thrived in and butchered early this season.
“It’s a lot different, coming off the bench with authority and then [starting], having a lot more opportunity, having a lot more shots and the ball in my hands a lot more,” Harden said. “It’s something I’m still trying to get used to and adjusted to, but it feels good.”
Harden is experiencing the ups and downs of being the star of a franchise. Although his scoring numbers continue to impress, he is becoming less responsible with the ball with every passing game.
This level of irresponsibility screams for Harden's need of a secondary scoring option to turn to.
If that's not enough, the Rockets have a net rating of plus-5.2 when Harden is on the bench. That number dips to minus-6.8 when he's on the floor.
A difference of 11.6 points.
This is yet another reason that Harden is a more valuable commodity to the Rockets off of the court. It is not his individual contributions that will lead the team to victory, but his influence as a star and brand.
With ties to Team USA, Harden could play a role in the Rockets' pursuit of pending free agents such as Chris Paul and Andre Iguodala.
Although it is unclear if any of the top free agents have interest in playing for Houston, cap space is available for the Rockets to make a move. With players such as Paul, Iguodala, Dwight Howard, Paul Millsap and Josh Smith all available, it's hard to imagine Harden won't play a factor in said players' decisions.
Paired with Lin, and the fact that Houston is a major-market franchise, the team could sway free agents after all. Which is exactly why Harden's greatest influence is off of the court.