Kobe Bryant: James Harden, Rockets Won't Win Title with Current Playing Style

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2019

Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) mugs for the camera before leaving the court during the final minutes of the team's NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

The Houston Rockets have had to rely almost exclusively on James Harden's absurd offensive output this season to win games, but NBA legend Kobe Bryant doesn't think that style of play will be sustainable in the postseason.

"I'm not a fan of it, in terms of winning championships. I don't think that style is ever going to win championships," he told The Jump's Rachel Nichols (h/t SportsCenter). But at the same time you have to keep your team's head above water to win games, so you have to do what you have to do to win games and he's doing that."

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Kobe Bryant believes James Harden and the Rockets won't win a championship with the style of play we're seeing on his scoring tear. (via @Rachel__Nichols) https://t.co/RQvdHPvpJw

Bryant also noted that getting Chris Paul back into the flow of the offense and creating more movement should help the Rockets, as defenses can currently key into Harden since his positioning on the court has been predictable as the primary ball-handler.

He did acknowledge that Harden's production has been "absolutely remarkable," however.

"It's a testament to how remarkable it is because people are now trying to minimize what he's doing," Bryant said. "I mean, he's doing some phenomenal stuff."

Indeed he is. Harden, 29, is averaging an incredible 36.3 PPG to go along with 8.1 APG and 6.8 RPG, taking a pretty clear lead in the MVP race. To put the absurdity of his recent scoring in perspective, in the month of January he averaged 43.6 PPG and had three games with 50 or more points and scored 61 points on Jan. 23 against the New York Knicks.

For the season, he's scored at least 40 points in a game 19 times and at least 50 points five times, and the Rockets—despite a number of injuries this season to key players like Harden early in the season, Paul and Clint Capela—are 30-22 and firmly in the playoff hunt.

With Harden on the court, the Rockets have an offensive rating of 114.5, per NBA.com. When he sits, that rating goes down to 107.2. His usage rating is an incredible 39.1 percent. To put that into perspective, the next four players are Joel Embiid (32.3), Devin Booker (31.2), Giannis Antetokounmpo (30.5) and Lou Williams (30.3), and only nine players in the entire league have a usage at 30 percent or higher.

Suffice it to say, Harden has been Houston's offense, especially while Paul was injured. But in the playoffs, that level of predictability will be far easier to defend and diagnose than a more dynamic offensive approach, especially since the Rockets lost several key defensive presences this offseason and aren't as solid on that end this year.

The Rockets, as currently constructed, probably don't have the firepower to upset the Golden State Warriors anyway. But Bryant is right—if they can't diversify their offense at least somewhat come the postseason, Harden's heroics will only take them so far.