Patrick Beverley knows firsthand how good Harden can be after spending the last four years playing alongside him in the backcourt. When Oliver Maroney of Basketball Insiders asked him what to expect from the superstar shooting guard during the 2016-17 season, Beverley responded, "MVP and leading us to the Finals. Simple."
"James is like a brother to me," Beverley added. "So I've seen him improve each year in [regards to] him being a leader."
It would take quite a bit of leadership to help guide a team to the Finals a year after finishing eighth in the Western Conference with a 41-41 record.
Harden is coming off an outstanding offensive season individually for the Rockets, having averaged a career-high 29.0 points per game to rank second in the NBA behind only Stephen Curry. He also finished sixth in the league with 7.5 assists while adding 6.1 rebounds in a league-best 38.1 minutes per game.
On a team where no one else averaged more than 13.7 points, it's clear Harden was already one of the most valuable players in the NBA.
The Arizona State product wasn't flawless last year, though, as he turned the ball over 4.6 times per game and often played the below-average defense that has become his trademark. Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News labeled Harden his "No-Defense Player of the Year" with some harsh criticism:
Harden usually gets the Courtesy Defensive Assignment (the easiest possible match-up as picked out by his coach), plays about 6 seconds of defense per possession, then either looks for a quick steal and takes himself out of the play or just stops guarding his guy and stands wherever the hell he wants.
For Harden to help his team contend for a championship, he will have to defend like he did two years ago when he finished second in the MVP voting and helped the Rockets reach the Western Conference Finals.
Harden has MVP potential and obvious confidence from his teammates, but it will take serious work for he and the Rockets to topple the heavily favored Golden State Warriors in 2016-17.
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