Grading James Harden's Debut with the Houston Rockets

Maxwell Ogden@MaxwellOgdenCorrespondent IIINovember 1, 2012

Grading James Harden's Debut with the Houston Rockets

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    In one of the most shocking moves of the 2012 offseason, the Houston Rockets completed a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder to acquire shooting guard James Harden. The team would later re-sign Harden to a five-year deal worth $80 million.

    For his first test as the leader of the young franchise, Harden was matched up against Rodney Stuckey and the Detroit Pistons. After four quarters, Houston would prevail victorious by a score of 105-96.

    Harden led the way, taking over the game by posting a stat line of 37 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, four steals and a block on 14-of-25 shooting. Harden also dropped in four three-pointers and posted a plus/minus of plus-18.

    The numbers don't lie, folks. James Harden got his Houston Rockets debut off to a sensational start.

Skill Level

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    Overall Grade: A+

    James Harden was nothing short of phenomenal.

    With 1:27 remaining in the fourth quarter, Harden drove the lane, crossed up Greg Monroe and drew an and-one to put the game away. He drained the free throw to extend the lead to 10 and bring his point total to 37.

    Harden scored at least nine points in every single quarter of the game, consistently exposing the Pistons defense by utilizing his unparalleled Euro step to blow by defenders, then utilizing a smooth crossover to reach the basket. This kept opponents off balance and enabled the Bearded One to thrill from beyond the arc, as well. Harden shot 4-of-9 from distance.

    On defense, Harden finished with four steals and one block. His first steal came with the Rockets down by two points, which led to Harden finding Greg Smith for an easy finish.

    No matter what Harden attempted to do, it led to points almost every time.

Chemistry with Teammates

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    Overall Grade: A

    Early in the game, Harden and his Rockets teammates struggled to mesh. There were missed opportunities to connect with slashing scorers and poor defensive rotations, which afforded the Pistons a handful of three-point onslaughts.

    Once it began to click, however, Harden was magical.

    The Bearded One finished with 12 assists, utilizing the pick-and-roll and backdoor screens to find his big men and sharpshooters. He also utilized screens to create his own shots, shooting and slashing his way to 37 points.

    No matter which statistic you want to evaluate, they all display Harden's uncanny ability to make his teammates better. The former Arizona State Sun Devil put up numbers that would impress anyone. What was truly breathtaking, however, was how vocal he was with his teammates.

    On both ends of the floor, Harden was in his teammates' ears. He directed the younger players to proper position, and encouraged struggling shooters to continue to fire.

    Harden stepped up as a leader as he developed the perfect chemistry with his new 'mates.

Chemistry with Jeremy Lin

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    Overall Grade: A-

    Jeremy Lin and James Harden have the upside to make one of the best backcourt combinations in the NBA. On their first night together, however, the duo often struggled as a unit.

    When they were on, however, it was a thing of beauty.

    In the early parts of the third quarter, Lin hit a streaking Harden for a highlight-reel finish. Although the duo's work together would be limited by Lin's foul trouble, this type of play offers insight into how dominant a tandem they could be.

    Each took time handling the ball and both appeared comfortable working as an off-guard. Harden and Lin also found both each other and teammates for transition and half-court scoring opportunities.

    The Rockets developed a a beautiful offensive rhythm that led to a whopping 55 first-half points, and the duo's ability to work off of one another's strengths and compensate for their respective weaknesses was a major reason why.

Starpower Factor

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    Overall Grade: A+

    To start the fourth quarter, James Harden stepped up and hit a clutch three-pointer to cut the Pistons lead to two. Seconds later, he intercepted a pass and picked up an assist on a basket that would tie the game.

    That was a major part of the Rockets' 19-4 run that gave them a 91-87 lead with roughly 6:00 remaining. It was also a product of Harden playing unstoppable offense and progressively more responsible defense.

    The star power of James Harden ranges beyond the beard. The numbers speak for themselves in this one (37 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, four steals and a block). He consistently stepped up with the game on the line, picking up buckets in bunches when the Pistons began to streak.

    The fact that Harden scored in virtually every way possible was just another example of how powerful his star has become.

    Unlike his performances against the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals, we did not witness Harden hesitating to attack the basket. Instead, he attacked on virtually every possession and found himself either scoring or dropping off a pass to an open big.

    Harden's confidence was unbelievable, and, for the first time in his young career, James Harden proved that he could be the leader of a winning franchise.

    The star of the Houston Rockets.

Leadership Qualities

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    Overall Grade: A+

    When a star player is willing to dive into the crowd in order to save a loose ball, the effect on his teammates is unquestionable. Such was the case when James Harden did just that around the midway point of the second quarter.

    What it was is a full display of how strong a leader Harden has become during his three years in the league, starring alongside Jeremy Lin as catalysts for the Houston Rockets offense.

    As expected, the inevitable feeling-out process by the new-look Rockets was on full display. Around the 5:30 mark of the first, however, Harden stepped up with a great hustle play that saved Lin from committing a turnover.

    Such set the pace for the rest of the game, which saw the Rockets look to Harden on every possession for guidance and quality finishes. When the Pistons were streaking, Harden stepped up to weather the storm. When the Rockets were in need of separation, Harden either scored or assisted on virtually every basket.

    One way or another, Harden found a way to lead the Rockets to victory.