A vast committee of contributors fueled Houston's league-leading 106-points-per-game attack. However, there's one Rocket who's been most important in supporting the bearded superstar.
Jeremy Lin has helped facilitate the offense throughout the season, and Omer Asik supplied superb defense and rebounding. But the most important player on the roster not named Harden is Chandler Parsons.
The 6'9" Most Improved Player of the Year candidate enjoyed a terrific sophomore campaign that included 15.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. His versatility was one of the primary reasons Kevin McHale's crew was uncontainable in 2012-13.
He thrives in transition as a passer, shooter and finisher, and possesses an impressive combination of length and agility. Parsons can elevate in the lane and score smoothly with either hand, and more importantly, he's a skilled passer and a dangerous perimeter threat.
In the half-court setting, Parsons is equally dangerous.
When the ball is not in his hands, he shifts and slides into optimal three-point position. In spot-up situations, he dropped 103 triples and shot 40 percent, according to Synergy Sports. If cutting lanes open up, he rarely misses an opportunity to dive to the rim.
When he does have the ball, he's a trusted decision-maker. Parsons seems to have a veteran-like knack of knowing what he's going to do before he catches it, whether it's a quick dish or a pump fake and drive.
A couple times per game, McHale turns to him as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, and it's worked out quite well. Parsons proved he can thread the needle with a precision pocket pass, take the ball all the way to the cup, or pull up for a jumper. In pick-and-roll situations, he hit 38-of-88 (43 percent) from the field and 12-of-20 (60 percent) from long range (via Synergy Sports).
Another nuance to his game that makes him valuable offensively is his shot fake and re-set. Parsons regularly gets defenders to bite on his pump fakes, and he then relocates with one dribble and sinks an in-rhythm attempt.
Defensively, he's developing extremely well for a second-year player. Even though he doesn't have great lateral quickness, he exhibits enough mobility to cover most swingmen and enough length to stop almost any forward.
The proof is in the bottom line: According to 82games.com, Houston allows 2.7 fewer points per 100 possessions when Parsons is on the floor, and he allows opponents 0.74 points per possession in isolation scenarios.
He's such an important supplement to Harden because he's the only other Rocket who can make plays inside and outside the paint. After the All-Star break, he shot 52 percent while turning the ball over less than twice per game.
With Parsons in the lineup, McHale has the flexibility to give Lin regular rest and Harden the occasional breather. No matter which player he sits, there will be at least two facilitators on the court.
It's easy to point to the James Harden trade as the sole reason Houston went from a non-playoff team to a postseason threat, but doing so would be a disservice to Parsons' improvement from his rookie to sophomore season.
In 2011-12, he shot 34 percent from three-land, and in 2012-13, he improved to 39 percent. His assists per 36 minutes went from 2.7 to 3.5, and his free-throw percentage went from 55 to 73 percent.
TNT analyst Steve Kerr noticed Parsons' upgraded impact within the first few weeks of the 2012-13 season:
Early pick for Most Improved Player: Chandler Parsons.He's fantastic.6-9, shoots from deep, handles, great passer and can really guard.— Steve Kerr (@SteveKerrTNT) December 3, 2012
Kerr was on to something, because the second-year star finished with better numbers across the board and the Rockets made an unexpected bid for postseason play.
In Houston's showdown with the Thunder, McHale will rely on his deep bench, but Parsons' effectiveness will be crucial in determining the Rockets' fate.
On the defensive end, he's not only going to guard all-world forward Kevin Durant. He'll also spend time on Kevin Martin and Thabo Sefolosha.
Parsons' decisions and execution in transition will dictate whether Houston can match Oklahoma City in a slugfest, as we know several of the games in the series will be high-scoring. In Houston's most recent regular-season meeting with the Thunder, he posted 17 points, six rebounds and five assists in a Rockets triumph.
In order to give Harden adequate help, McHale needs Parsons to stuff the stat sheet like that again, and play career-best defense against a dynamic OKC club.