How valuable is James Harden?

David Friedman Columnist

By David Friedman, David Friedman is a Roar Expert

Tagged:
 

88 Have your say

    James Harden and the Rockets have forced Mark Cuban to shut the hell up. (Derral Chen / Flickr)

    Related coverage

    James Harden finished second in the 2015 MVP voting. Harden is a very good player but not quite as good as his press clippings. Let’s take a look at both sides of the issue.

    Harden is the darling of the analytics crowd. Houston General Manager Daryl Morey is one of the most outspoken advocates of “advanced basketball statistics,” numbers that are supposed to provide more insight into a player’s value than those found in the traditional box score.

    Morey has built the Rockets around the idea that the best shots in basketball are layups, free throws and three pointers. The Rockets abhor other shots and take as few of them as possible.

    Mathematically, this makes a lot of sense. Most NBA players are very good at converting layups and free throws and a player only has to shoot .333 from three point range to be as efficient as a player who shoots .500 from two point range.

    From a practical standpoint, there are at least three possible problems with this approach. Three point shooting can be highly variable, so even a great shooter could go 6-9 on three pointers one night and 2-9 the next night, which works out to a great shooting percentage from that distance but could result in a 1-1 team record for those games.

    Also, scoring in the paint without a post up game may not always be possible.

    Finally, the ability to get to the free throw line can depend on how the game is called.

    A player who has no post up skills or midrange game can be guarded such that his driving lanes are curtailed and most of his three pointers are contested. LeBron James did not win a championship until he developed those two aspects of his game.

    Harden plays the Morey way, getting most of his points off of free throws and three pointers. He led the league in Win Shares, an “advanced basketball statistic” that is supposedly more accurate and objective than traditional box score numbers and/or the eye test.

    However, if you are going to buy the premise that the Win Shares leader is the NBA’s best player then you are also cosigning the notion that DeAndre Jordan is the fifth best player in the NBA, Pau Gasol, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James are in a dead heat for 9th-11th, Tyson Chandler is just behind that trio and Rudy Gobert is the 15th best player in the NBA.

    Or, you can concede that there may be some issues with Win Shares. What you cannot do is use Win Shares to pump up Harden but then disregard everything else that Win Shares says.

    The other side of the argument is that there is more to evaluating a player’s value than just aggregating his offensive output in an “advanced” way. “Advanced basketball statistics,” even by the admission of fervent but objective advocates of their value, are at best imprecise at measuring a player’s individual defensive contributions.

    Last season, Harden was horrible defensively. This season, by some accounts he is adequate and by other accounts he is still subpar.

    He is well below average defensively. I would not trust him to be willing or able to take on tough defensive assignments on a consistent basis and even when he checks lesser threats he is far too often distracted and out of position.

    How many great players have multiple, lengthy YouTube videos dedicated to their terrible defense?

    When I watch Harden, I see a player who is very talented and who puts up big numbers but who needs to have a more dominant all-around player around him to lift his team to a championship level.

    I see Carmelo Anthony, Gilbert Arenas or Stephon Marbury, not LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan (the players who have led teams to multiple championships in the past decade).

    Since Harden arrived in Houston, the Rockets have accumulated two first round losses followed by a Western Conference Finals appearance that has been fueled in no small part by Dwight Howard and the play of Houston’s complementary players.

    Harden has stuffed the box score, yet Houston has been outscored overall when he is on the court during Houston’s 13 playoff games so far.

    The Rockets have outscored their opponents when Howard is on the court and the same is also true for Trevor Ariza and Josh Smith.

    Harden has had some great moments during the 2015 playoffs but he was also a spectator during Houston’s key fourth quarter runs versus the Mavericks in game two and versus the Clippers in game six.

    He is a very good player and yet one gets the feeling that the sum of his contributions can be replaced, individually or collectively, by other players precisely because that is what has happened so far during the 2015 playoffs when Harden is not in the game.

    David Friedman
    David Friedman

    David Friedman has covered the NBA for more than a decade, and in doing so, has interviewed nearly two dozen members of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List. You can find his work at 20SecondTimeout.

    Have Your Say



    If not logged in, please enter your name and email before submitting your comment. Please review our comments policy before posting on the Roar.

    Oldest | Newest | Most Recent

    The Crowd Says (88)

    • May 21st 2015 @ 9:28am
      Swampy said | May 21st 2015 @ 9:28am | ! Report

      What can be said outside of win shares and analytics and if Harden is worthy as an MVP runner up is that the Rockets are horrible to watch.

      Hopefully the Warriors can eliminate them because I don’t want to see too many more teams adopt the Rocket’s style. If they win the title or even make it to the Finals then Morey will likely be vindicated and more teams will follow suit.

      What does Houston shoot in its free throw % – surely that is the ultimate easy shot? And how do they apply the same principles to defence?

      • May 22nd 2015 @ 9:10am
        Clark said | May 22nd 2015 @ 9:10am | ! Report

        You are right about their style of play. The plan is simple, just double team Harden and get him to go left , he is reluctant to feed the ball, uses up most of the shot clock (which isn’t always a bad thing), but it doesn’t suit Rocket’s style of play. You can live with letting guys like Brewer, Smith and Ariza take threes because they aren’t consistent enough to get worried about. They also have no defense whatsoever, you can get pretty much any shot you want. Klay Thompson missed 6 threes last game, shots you would expect them to make. But for me the two biggest things about the Rockets which are hampering them is they have no proper point guard (even when Beverley is in the line up) and they have next to no inside presence, Dwight Howard is not playing like an $80mn player, you need your big man to work inside and get an easy baskets, back your way to the rim (EG Zach Randolph).

    • May 21st 2015 @ 11:43am
      astro said | May 21st 2015 @ 11:43am | ! Report

      I don’t think anyone is putting Harden in the James, Kobe and Duncan class, are they?

      I think Harden is a great player and one of the best in the league, but agree his defense stops him from being elite. Having said that, I would have been comfortable with him being MVP. I thought he dragged a pretty average Rox team to a great regular season record.

      As for analytics, I don’t see the Rox as being that unique. Almost every team uses analytics these days. The Spurs just won the “Best Analytics Organization” award at Sloan this year, so I don’t see why Morey and the Rox are always singled out as being a team built on analytics. Besides, if Morey was that much of a slave to analytics, why would he sign Josh Smith?

      Surely in this day and age, with what we now know about scoring efficiencys, it makes sens to take more 3s and less long 2s, no?

      Also, do we have proof that the Rox are going fine with Harden off the floor? I think that period where Harden sat during the Rox come back was surely a bit of an anomaly…Bit of a stretch to say that because of that one period, Harden is replaceable.

      • May 21st 2015 @ 4:28pm
        astro said | May 21st 2015 @ 4:28pm | ! Report

        So turns out the Rockets are +8 when Harden is on the floor. Not a huge fan of +/-, but still shows Harden has value. He’s above guys like Westbrook and Aldridge, but well below Curry, James and Paul…so not easily replaceable.

        • Columnist

          May 22nd 2015 @ 1:28am
          David Friedman said | May 22nd 2015 @ 1:28am | ! Report

          Astro:

          Rockets have a negative plus/minus when Harden is on the court during the playoffs this year. Not only that but during two of the Rockets’ crucial fourth quarter runs (game two versus Dallas, game six versus L.A.) Harden sat on the bench while Howard and others led the way.

          Harden has value but he is far from indispensable to Houston’s success.

    • Roar Guru

      May 21st 2015 @ 11:48am
      Chris Kettlewell said | May 21st 2015 @ 11:48am | ! Report

      Any statistic that combines all sorts of things together to supposedly be able to truly rank players, yet has no way of including some major areas of the game is always going to be flawed.

      While there are lots of statistics in basketball, there are many areas that are hard to define in statistics. Defense is one of those areas. While there are defensive statistics like steals and blocks, are there any statistics for how often a player gets beaten one on one, or is found out of position, how good, or not good, a player is at getting past screens when guarding a player, shooting percentage of players they are guarding, how often they force the player to lay the ball off because they don’t have give them any option to take a shot, etc.

      There are players who do lots of things well that don’t show on stats. A top offensive player may have a night where they don’t build up a lot of stats, because he’s constantly just drawing the defense allowing his teammates to get open, or a top defender may just so block up an area that they simply don’t try to attack in his area. A good defensive stat for a centre could simply be how often the opposition manages to score in the paint in half-court offense when he’s in the game. Some players may really be the teams general on defense, really got at viewing what’s going on all over the court and helping teammates to be alert to things and the whole team performs better on defense while they are on the court, even if it doesn’t show on their stats.

      How many of these sorts of things are taken into account in the statistics. Stats tell a lot, but unless you’ve got a way of measuring all these sorts of things also, you always need to go beyond pure statistics in determining a players worth. Otherwise you’ll have players working out the areas that make their stats look better and just work on those areas completely at the expense of other skills that help the team win but don’t improve their stat-line.

      • Columnist

        May 21st 2015 @ 12:18pm
        Ronan O'Connell said | May 21st 2015 @ 12:18pm | ! Report

        Very interesting article David and a great post here Chris. I’m definitely biased towards players with a really well-rounded game so Harden has always been down my rankings.

        • May 21st 2015 @ 4:20pm
          astro said | May 21st 2015 @ 4:20pm | ! Report

          Its an interesting argument this…to Chris’ point, defense is very hard to quantify on an individual basis, so with that, how do we know that Harden is “well below average defensively”?

          If we look at the stats we have available, Harden looks to be well above average this year. He’s 3rd in steals, and 6th in steals per game. He’s 10th in defensive win shares (which to me looks like a reasonably reliable stat considering the guys above him are Jordan, D Green, Marc Gasol, Duncan, Pau, Kawahi, Millsap, Drummond and Gobert – all guys who had great seasons defensively).

          I think much of the answer has to do with perception. Its interesting that David mentions the Youtube videos of Harden’s defense. Its those kinds of things that influence how we perceive a player, even if in reality they aren’t true. This is where stats, despite their limitations, are so important. The ‘eye test’ can lie…stats can’t. They are what they are, even if limited.

          • Columnist

            May 21st 2015 @ 5:25pm
            Ryan O'Connell said | May 21st 2015 @ 5:25pm | ! Report

            Don’t be too harsh on the good old ‘eye test’, Astro.

            After all, my eyes tell me Houston finished second in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, are currently playing in the Conference Finals, and are therefore one of the best four teams in the league.

            Winning is the only stat that truly matters, and the Rockets have done plenty of that. And they’ve done it based almost exclusively around James Harden’s abilities on offence. He’s the most important player on one of the best four teams in the NBA. If that does’t make you ‘valuable’, then I have no idea what does.

            • Columnist

              May 22nd 2015 @ 1:53am
              David Friedman said | May 22nd 2015 @ 1:53am | ! Report

              Ryan:

              As I mentioned in my response to Astro, Harden is far from indispensable to Houston’s success. Houston has actually been outscored overall during the playoffs when he has been on the court–and that is not just a stat that has been influenced by small sample size or an anomalous blowout, because we have seen that when Houston desperately needed to make late game runs (fourth quarter of game two versus Dallas, fourth quarter of game six versus L.A.) Harden has been on the bench.

              Yes, the Rockets have done plenty of winning but the question this article addresses is how much Harden had to do with that success.

              We have seen many NBA players who put up great individual statistics that did not translate into much winning. Harden is in that mold but he is fortunate this season that he has a reasonably healthy Dwight Howard (though we will see how Howard’s knee is now after getting hurt in game one versus Golden State) and a very good supporting cast.

              Harden was the third best player on a team that lost in the NBA Finals. Has he really improved so much since that time that he is now capable of being the best player on a championship team? I don’t buy that idea at all.

              • Columnist

                May 22nd 2015 @ 9:08am
                Ryan O'Connell said | May 22nd 2015 @ 9:08am | ! Report

                The premise of the article is that James Harden didn’t deserve serious MVP consideration this season, yet your main argument to support that opinion is his playoff performances, which don’t factor into the MVP award.

                However, if you’re arguing that a player’s true worth comes in the playoffs, that’s fair enough, and I agree.

                But to that point, the main stat you’ve used against Harden is that Houston have been outscored overall when he’s been on the court during the playoffs, but that doesn’t factor in actual wins/losses.

                Iff you look at Harden’s +/- for each individual game:

                vs Dallas Mavericks in the first round:
                Game 1: +15 (win)
                Game 2: +9 (win)
                Game 3: -1 (win)
                Game 4: -13 (loss)
                Game 5: +16 (win)

                vs LA Clippers in the second round:
                Game 1: -22 (loss)
                Game 2: +14 (win)
                Game 3: -16 (loss)
                Game 4: -18 (loss)
                Game 5: +23 (win)
                Game 6: -21 (win)
                Game 7: +12 (win)

                vs Golden State Warriors in the third round:
                Game 1: -2 (loss)

                So when Houston win, Harden’s +/- is +8.4, when the Rockets lose, it’s -14.2. That’s a 22.6 differential.

                So even the +/- stat you want to use actually highlights how important/valuable/indispensible Harden is to the Rockets, doesn’t it?

                (And Harden’s +/- is actually +12.5 if you discount that game 6 vs Clippers anomaly, when Houston shouldn’t have won. When Josh Smith is hitting threes and JJ Redick is missing them, I think you can call that an ‘anomaly’).

                To your question around whether Harden has improved since he was a third banana on the Thunder, of course he has. You would expect any young player to improve from when they were 4 years ago.

                Personally, I cannot believe you’re comparing Harden to Stephon Marbury or Gilbert Arenas, considering Harden already has an NBA Finals and a Conference Finals on his resume. Those two didn’t come close to sniffing that.

                Lastly, you don’t have to wonder how Harden would fair without Dwight Howard, because the Rockets won plenty of games without Dwight during the regular season, thanks mainly to Harden.

              • May 22nd 2015 @ 10:58am
                astro said | May 22nd 2015 @ 10:58am | ! Report

                “We have seen many NBA players who put up great individual statistics that did not translate into much winning. Harden is in that mold”

                Come on David…The Rockets finished 56-26, with Dwight playing in only 41 games, and the “very good supporting cast” being Ariza, Motiejunas and a 37yr old Jason Terry. Beverley only played 56 games, Jones played only 33.

                Harden’s stats equal wins anyway you look at it.

              • May 22nd 2015 @ 11:59am
                pete bloor said | May 22nd 2015 @ 11:59am | ! Report

                How is it not a stat where sample size is an issue? You’ve got 13 data points take a look at that massive standard deviation and only and blundering fool or liar would say there is no issue with sample size.

                This is a common problem with every article you’ve submitted to the roar. A fundamental misunderstanding of that which you are aiming to discredit.

              • Columnist

                May 22nd 2015 @ 7:54pm
                David Friedman said | May 22nd 2015 @ 7:54pm | ! Report

                Astro:

                Don’t just look at names or ages. Look at how the individual players have actually performed and the contributions that they have made. Also, don’t leave out Josh Smith, who has had a huge impact. The Rockets have an excellent supporting cast around Howard and Harden. If I have underestimated anything about the Rockets, it is not Harden but rather how well Howard would play in the playoffs and how well that supporting cast would continue to play.

              • Columnist

                May 22nd 2015 @ 8:02pm
                David Friedman said | May 22nd 2015 @ 8:02pm | ! Report

                Pete:

                You ignored what I wrote about Win Shares. Do you buy the premise that LeBron is barely a top 10 player and that Gobert should have made the All-NBA Third Team? The same “advanced” numbers that put Harden number one over the course of the 2015 season also say some pretty strange things about other players.

                Of course, plus/minus must be used judiciously but the point here is that the eye test confirms that during the playoffs Harden has been far from indispensable. When Houston made big fourth quarter runs against Dallas and the Clippers, he was on the bench.

                After Harden arrived in Houston, he led the Rockets to two first round losses. This year they are in the Conference Finals. What is the difference? Has Harden improved that much? No. Howard has been healthy and dominant. Howard is playing almost as well as he did when he led Orlando to the Finals. Howard, not Harden, has been the best player on a team that reached the Finals. Without Howard, the Rockets would have exited in the first (or, at most, the second) round again this year.

                I don’t think that you even understand what I am “trying to discredit” in this or other articles. I said that Memphis is not a championship contender because the Grizzlies cannot make an outside shot. If you watched their series against Golden State then you know that the series was decided because Golden State could pack the paint and ignore Memphis’ non-shooters, just like I predicted.

                As for Harden, he is obviously a very good player. I just don’t think that he is quite as good as some people say. He is a poor defensive player and his offensive numbers are padded by the system in which he plays. There are several other guards in the NBA who could put up similar numbers if placed in that system alongside those players.

            • Columnist

              May 22nd 2015 @ 7:51pm
              David Friedman said | May 22nd 2015 @ 7:51pm | ! Report

              Ryan:

              Playoff performance is important because that is where one can assess just how “valuable” a player really is. It is one thing to amass numbers during the regular season and quite another to do so in seven game series against playoff teams. Harden is a very good player who has not performed great overall in the playoffs during his career.

              Your recitation of Harden’s game by game plus/minus numbers hardly shows that Harden is “indispensable.” If Harden is so great, why have the Rockets been outscored overall when he is in the game? That is not true of Howard, Ariza or Smith. Harden is very good at padding his individual numbers (which he did in the course of some of Houston’s blowout losses) but much of the “value” he is adding can apparently be replaced just fine by other players, since the Rockets are outscoring their playoff opponents with him on the bench.

              Game six was very interesting. With their playoff fate on the line, the Rockets benched Harden and came back from a 19 point deficit in 14 minutes on the road. The Harden cult sees this as proof of his greatness because he accepted being benched but what would you and most other people say if the Lakers had done so well with Kobe on the bench or if the Heat or Cavs did that with LeBron on the bench? Harden is apparently so great that just by waving a towel on the bench he changes the outcome of games.

              Harden has played with better teammates than Arenas or Marbury. I am not convinced that his skill set is better.

              What specific skill set has Harden improved since leaving OKC? His numbers have increased because he has the ball in his hands much more but what does he actually do better?

              • Columnist

                May 22nd 2015 @ 9:08pm
                Ryan O'Connell said | May 22nd 2015 @ 9:08pm | ! Report

                So Harden’s plus/minus numbers essentially indicate that during these playoffs, when he plays well, the Rockets win, and when he plays bad, the Rockets lose. Yet you think that “hardly shows he’s indispensable”. Are you serious?

                Harden pads his stats? That’s a common criticism when someone accumulates great stats, but you personally don’t like them/rate them. It’s a silly argument when you consider Harden’s usage rate. There’s a difference between ‘padding’ and being ‘heavily reliant upon’.

                Do you think leading the league in assisted 3 point shots is ‘padding your stats’?

                Yes, the Rockets won game 6 with Harden on the bench. This is your proof he isn’t valuable? One game? What about the Bulls bench coming back against Portland in game 6 of the NBA Finals in 1992 with Jordan on the bench? What about Steve Kerr going nuts in game 6 of 2003 Western Semis, while Duncan sat on the bench, after having a bad game? You can always find one game to suit a bad argument.

                A bigger sample size than one game (or two if you really want to use the Dallas first round game) is usually beneficial to use. Here’s an example: this season, the Rockets have a nearly identical record with Dwight Howard (29-12) as they did without (27-14). I believe that shows who is Houston’s most important – and best – player.

                You seriously think Harden’s skill set isn’t as good as Gilbert Arenas or Stephon Marbury? Fair enough, but I disagree. He’s a better passer than both, for starters. As for teammates, it’s debatable he’s had better ones than Gil or Steph since leaving OKC.

                Harden hasn’t been sublime in the playoffs in his career, but he’s extremely valuable to the Houston Rockets, and was a worthy runner up in the MVP race this season. To refute either – in my humble opinion – is complete and utter nonsense.

              • Columnist

                May 24th 2015 @ 12:07am
                David Friedman said | May 24th 2015 @ 12:07am | ! Report

                Ryan:

                You are confusing causation and correlation. Nothing you wrote proves that Harden playing well caused the Rockets to win. In fact, the numbers prove that during the playoffs the Rockets actually have done better with Harden off of the court. In the first year without Harden, the Thunder also did better without him than they did in his last year with the team and that is particularly telling since it is difficult for a championship-caliber team to improve its winning percentage. If Westbrook had not gotten hurt the Thunder could very well have won a championship one year after letting Harden go. Harden was hardly indispensable to the Thunder.

                You are arguing against things that I never asserted (your comment about Harden’s assists on three point shots). Harden padded his individual stats against the Clippers in Houston’s blowout losses when he scored a bunch of points in the second half when Houston was never within 20 points of the lead. That is padding stats and those numbers are meaningless.

                Go back and look up the Chicago-Portland game you referenced. Jordan played 43 minutes and he scored a game-high 33 points.The Bulls made a fourth quarter run with Pippen and four reserves but Jordan and Pippen closed out the game together. Harden played like garbage for three quarters and then sat out the fourth quarter while his teammates saved the day. If you want to talk about “complete and utter nonsense,” comparing Harden versus the Clippers with Jordan versus the Blazers qualifies. That was also the second of Jordan’s six titles. Harden has one Finals appearance as a third option and he played terribly in the Finals.

                Harden’s Rockets lost in the first round twice with no Howard/injury-limited Howard. Howard returned at the end of the 2015 season looking at least somewhat like his old self and, what do you know, the Rockets actually got out of the first round.

                The assist statistic is subjective but Marbury averaged 7.7 apg, Arenas 5.3 apg and Harden 4.4 apg. Unless you can make a compelling case regarding Harden’s skills as a passer, the numbers don’t support you at all. I don’t think that any of those guys are winning passers; some guys only like to make passes that lead to shots, even if there are other passes available that compromise the defense. The Spurs don’t care who gets the assist; they just move the ball around to create the best shot for the team. Marbury was notorious for holding on to the ball until he could spoon feed someone to shoot the ball, whether or not that was the best shot the team could get on that possession. Arenas was similar. Harden is better than those guys but he is closer to them than he is to LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and other great players who won multiple titles.

              • Columnist

                May 24th 2015 @ 10:21am
                Ryan O'Connell said | May 24th 2015 @ 10:21am | ! Report

                David, if you want to hold onto the belief that James Harden is dispensable and not all that valuable to the Rockets, based on the solitary stat that the Rockets have been outscored with Harden on the floor in this year’s playoffs, you go right ahead.

                Here are some other stats though:

                You know who leads the 2015 NBA Playoffs in Win Shares? James Harden with 2.5

                He’s also first in ‘Value over Replacement Player’ at 1.3, which suggests he’s pretty valuable in these playoffs.

                And he’s also second in playoff PER at 25.9.

                Though I agree with you that the playoffs are where players really show their value, it’s irresponsible to ignore the much larger sample size of the regular season altogether. And in the regular season, Harden’s Real Plus Minus was the FOURTH best in the entire league.

                Furthermore, of a panel of 129 sportswriters who voted for the 2014/15 NBA MVP award, James Harden received 25 first place votes, 87 second place votes, 13 third place votes, and 4 fourth place votes. Clearly all of them think James Harden is ‘valuable’.

                You think Harden padded his stats in the blowout losses to the Clippers?

                These are his basis stats in Houston’s four wins in that series:
                Game 2: 32 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds
                Game 5: 26 points, 10 assists, 11 rebounds
                Game 6: 23 points (albeit on 5/20 shooting), 3 assists, 2 rebounds
                Game 7: 31 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds

                So, removing the games you think he ‘padded’ his stats in, he averages were:
                28 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds.

                I think we’ve put that one to bed.

                I wasn’t comparing Harden to Duncan and Jordan at all. I was making the point that it’s easy to find one or two games in which superstars sat on the bench while their teammates played well. It proves nothing about a player’s greatness, or how ‘valuable’ they are.

                Yes, the Rockets need a healthy Dwight Howard. What exactly does that prove? That Harden needs help? What a revelation! Last time I looked, Jordan needed Pippen, Bird needed McHale, Magic needed Worthy, Shaq needed Kobe, Kobe needed Pau, LeBron needed Wade, etc, etc, etc.

                As for Harden’s ‘style’ of passing and assists, this Houston team is built around Harden’s abilities with the ball in his hand – as their GM freely admits. And the Rockets finished second in the West, and are one of four teams still alive in the playoffs. Again, if this doesn’t prove that he’s valuable, and that his assist numbers aren’t hollow, I don’t know what does.

              • Columnist

                May 24th 2015 @ 3:14pm
                David Friedman said | May 24th 2015 @ 3:14pm | ! Report

                Ryan:

                My point is based on a lot more than just one stat. Reread the article and reread my previous pieces that have discussed Harden. Also, you did not answer my question about what specific areas you think that Harden has improved.

                Win Shares is a great stat, as I mentioned in the article (sarcasm). According to Win Shares, LeBron was barely a top 10 player during the regular season and Rudy Gobert should have made the All-NBA Third Team. You cannot use Win Shares to support Harden’s MVP candidacy unless you are also co-signing that nonsense.

                Regarding stat padding, I provided two specific examples in my recap of the series at 20 Second Timeout (http://20secondtimeout.blogspot.com/2015/05/second-round-recapconference-finals_18.html) : “In game three, the Clippers blew out the Rockets 124-99 as Harden padded his box score totals (he scored nine of his 25 points in the fourth quarter when Houston never cut the deficit to less than 20 points). In game three, the Clippers routed the Rockets 128-95. This time, Harden padded his numbers in the third quarter, scoring 10 points while the Clippers expanded their lead from 60-54 to 103-79.” I also mentioned the games in which Harden played well, so read the article before jumping to the conclusion that my writing is based on not liking certain players. I am analyzing objectively.

                Thankfully, the media members did not mess up to the point of actually naming Harden MVP but the ones who pushed Harden to second were wrong. All of Harden’s weaknesses were on display not just in the games I cited in my article but also in Golden State’s game three blowout win. Harden was a non-factor (3-16 field goal shooting), Curry was the best player on the court by a country mile and the ESPN announcers stated clearly that the only Rocket who played hard was Howard.

                Without Howard’s contributions, the Rockets would likely have lost in the first round, as they did the past two years.

                Find me a playoff game in which a supposed MVP candidate sat out the whole fourth quarter after playing like garbage in the first three quarters and his team rallied from 19 points down with 14 minutes to go. In the 1992 Finals game that you mentioned, Jordan sat five minutes out of 48 and he led both teams in scoring. Your analogy is flawed beyond belief and credibility.

                The excuses the Harden cult make for this guy are just unbelievable.

                Look, Harden is a good player but when you pump him up as an MVP candidate you just put pressure on him to do things he cannot do and you end up looking silly.

                The Rockets were fortunate to make it this far, they did better with Harden out of the game than with Harden in the game throughout the playoffs and now they are being thoroughly outclassed.

                Your concluding remarks have it backward. Howard is the one who needs help and Harden is not giving it. That is why he has sat out the fourth quarter when Houston needed to make runs against Dallas and the Clippers and that is why Houston got blown out last night with Howard gamely playing on one leg while Harden looked awful.

                Houston won a lot of regular season games based on a quirky style and a better than advertised supporting cast. The system is geared toward making a dominant ballhandler look good, just like D’Antoni’s system inflates a point guard’s numbers. D’Antoni helped Nash become an MVP and he even helped Raymond Felton look good, at least for a little while.

                There are many guards in the NBA who could do what Harden did during the regular season in this system.

                Harden is doing exactly what I predicted he would do in the postseason when he arrived in Houston three years ago: score a lot of points but shoot less than .450 from the field and not be able to lift a team into championship contention. What happened that I did not predict is that Houston acquired Howard and that Howard revitalized himself. I also did not foresee that Houston would bring in Josh Smith.

                The Rockets go as far in the playoffs as Howard can take them, period. Without Howard, they are first round fodder and will remain so (unless they find/develop a player as good as Howard).

                Harden is a good player but not a face of the franchise player. I went through this same kind of thing when I wrote about Carmelo Anthony and Gilbert Arenas a few years back. Their fans did not like what I wrote but I was right. The great thing about the NBA is that seven game series speak the truth a lot louder than “advanced stats.”

                It will be entertaining to hear all of the excuses for Harden’s play, though.

              • Columnist

                May 24th 2015 @ 7:09pm
                Ryan O'Connell said | May 24th 2015 @ 7:09pm | ! Report

                Right, a few things to address here, so I’ll have to go to a number system (advanced Roar metric?!) to get to them all:

                1.
                I reread your article as you asked, and I still see nothing further from an evidence point-of-view to prove your point that Harden is not valuable.

                2.
                You ask where has Harden improved from his OKC days? In a number of ways – some measurable, some just plain common sense.

                He’s playing 7 more minutes per game, has been give the keys to the entire offense, is ‘the man’ for his team (rather than the less pressured role of a bench player) and is now the number one option not just throughout the game, but in crunch time. He’s also gone from playing off the ball a lot, to playing with the ball a lot. All those require improvement above and beyond your assertion that he simply just has the ‘ball in his hands more.

                If you look at his ‘per 36 minute’ averages, they’re mainly up, which negates the ‘just more opportunities’ theory. He’s also attempting more free throws, and hitting a higher percentage.

                Statistically, he’s actually dropped in many areas from an efficiency perspective, but considering his usage rate has gone through the roof, and his minutes and responsibilities have gone up, his efficiency would naturally go down. I don’t think that means he hasn’t improved, before you jump on that.

                3.
                On Win Shares, my point was that any stat in isolation can be a little (or a lot) misleading. That’s why I supplied more than one.

                Win Shares, like any number, doesn’t paint the whole picture. I never said it did. But to dismiss it outright because it doesn’t back up your opinion is fairly irresponsible.

                To that point, on your repeated sledge of Rudy Gobert, considering defense is 50% of basketball, is it really that ridiculous that someone with his defensive ability (look at his rim protection numbers) is considered valuable?

                4.
                On your stat padding comment, you said Harden padded his in the losses to the Clippers. Yet I removed his alleged ‘stat padding’ games and showed that his stats in the Rockets’ wins were very good. So, I’m sorry, but your ‘stat padding’ doesn’t carry much weight.

                If Harden has ‘padded’ stats in both wins and losses, perhaps it stands to reason that he’s actually just a damn good player?

                (By the way, did you just quote yourself from another piece you wrote to back up your own opinion in this piece??!?)

                5.
                So all the media members messed up by nominating Harden the runner up in the MVP? 129 NBA journalists were wrong, and you’re right?

                6.
                I’m not sure that pointing out that Harden played badly in game 3 vs the Warriors – a game they also lost badly – is evidence to support your point that Harden is not valuable to the Rockets. It actually supports myassertion that he IS valuable!

                7.
                You say Houston would have lost in the first round without Howard’s contributions. Maybe. But all that says is Harden needs help. Not exactly an insight when you consider few superstars can win without help.

                8.
                “Find me a playoff game in which a supposed MVP candidate sat out the whole fourth quarter after playing like garbage in the first three quarters and his team rallied from 19 points down with 14 minutes to go.”

                I can go better than that. I can provide you with examples of when an MVP candidate say out an ENTIRE playoff game, yet their team still won:

                – Chris Paul sitting out game 1 versus the Houston Rockets in the previous round of THIS year’s playoffs, with his Clippers still winning.
                – The Lakers winning game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals without the MVP that year, Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
                – Any Chicago Bulls playoff win in the last three years without Derrick Rose.
                – Any OKC Playoff win without Rusty or Durant.
                – I think the Lakers won an NBA Finals game without Shaq one year too?

                9.
                “There are many guards in the NBA who could do what Harden did during the regular season in this system.”

                Seriously? Really? Please name them.

                10.
                “Harden . . . has not be able to lift a team into championship contention.”

                What?! THEY ARE IN CONTENTION! Does having the second best record in the West and making the Western Conference Finals not equal ‘contention’??

                11.
                “ Without Howard, they are first round fodder and will remain so”

                So without their second best player, Houston aren’t as good? Not exactly a revelation there, David.

                And just to repeat: the Rockets had nearly an identical record this year with Dwight Howard (29-12) as they did without (27-14). It’s time you gave Harden credit for this. It’s overdue.

                12.
                “Harden is a good player but not a face of the franchise player.”

                Just your opinion. And I’m not sure what logic it’s based on. In fact, ‘m not sure what your definition of a ‘franchise player’ is, but here are some facts: Harden is the player GM Morey built this Houston team around; he’s their highest paid player; he’s front and centre on all their advertising/merchandise; he’s the captain; the ball is in his hands at the end of games; and their 4 wins away from the NBA Finals. If that’s not a franchise player, what is?

              • May 25th 2015 @ 5:15am
                express34texas said | May 25th 2015 @ 5:15am | ! Report

                Excellent points Ryan to nullify this absurd Harden denigration agenda that David has been on ever since OKC traded him. Contrary to what he thinks, there’s really no evidence to suggest now that Harden isn’t an elite player. Perennial AS, 1st team all-nba, and top 5 MVP candidate now, while leading his team to 54 and 56 wins in an amazing conf. 2 years in a row, which is better than his beloved James did in a much weaker conf. It’s quite interesting how he thinks having Howard is so great and somehow proves how Harden isn’t that good. I mean, really? Look what Curry did last year without Bogut, who is clearly no Howard, losing in the 1st round. What player hasn’t needed help? HOU has looked like the 2nd best team in the playoffs so far, 3rd at very worst.

                Also, this isn’t just the media, it’s everyone, who says Harden is a current great and certainly top 5 player this year, even JVG and Doug Collins, who you often regurgitate what they say. Find me one real nba expert who rates Harden anywhere near as low as you do, let alone several, let alone a good percentage. Maybe I’ve missed something, but I haven’t heard anything except from you putting Harden barely top 20 in the league this year.

                It’s quite telling that basically the only times you bring up plus/minus to further your opinion, it’s concerning Harden, and basically completely disregard it in every other situation. Might want to think about that.

              • Columnist

                May 25th 2015 @ 5:01pm
                David Friedman said | May 25th 2015 @ 5:01pm | ! Report

                Ryan:
                This is a strange debate to have after James Harden played horribly as his team fell into a 3-0 hole in the Western Conference Finals. My stated belief that Harden is not good enough to be the best player on a championship contender is hardly refuted by recent events. That said, I will nevertheless offer my take on the points that you mentioned.

                1. Evidence that Harden is not as valuable as some people say:

                1) Rockets have been outscored during the 2015 playoffs with Harden on the court.
                2) OKC improved their winning percentage the year after replacing Harden with Kevin Martin.
                3) Rockets did not advance past the first round in Harden’s first two years in Houston. Rockets only advanced past first round this year with Howard playing dominant role on defense and even supplying key fourth quarter offense.

                2. It is obvious that Harden has a bigger role. I asked you what, from a skill set standpoint, you think that he does better. You admitted that he is less efficient now. We agree about that. Otherwise, you did not answer my question.

                3. You used Win Shares in isolation. You gave no explanation why this stat tells us anything that is relevant. I think the fact that it clearly misevaluates several players is good reason to not take it very seriously. Gobert is a good defensive player but he is not the 15th best player in the NBA.

                4. I quoted my own article because you did not understand my point. My point is that Harden’s coach kept him in blowout losses so that Harden could put up meaningless numbers in garbage time. Harden’s per game numbers in the playoffs are boosted by stats he put up in blowout losses that were out of reach. That, combined with the fact that he had little impact in multiple fourth quarter comebacks, is evidence weighing against your estimation of Harden’s value. I don’t care about Harden making threes when his team is down 20 points. I do care about Harden being on the bench when critical playoff games are being decided by fourth quarter comebacks.

                5. Sure, the media always gets everything right in all fields of endeavor (sarcasm). Do I even have to answer that one?

                6. So, what you are saying is that when Harden sits on the bench in comebacks it proves his value and also that when he plays poorly and the Rockets lose it proves his value. Basically, no matter what happens we must accept that Harden is valuable because, well, you said so.
                Sorry, it does not work that way.

                7. It would be more accurate to say that Howard needs help. He is the guy who has led a team to the Finals before, not Harden. Harden was the third best player on an NBA Finalist and he played badly in his one Finals appearance.

                8. I did not ask you to provide examples of teams surviving when an MVP candidate missed an entire game. A team can adjust if it knows in advance that a player is going to be out but it is hard to adjust to a supposedly great player playing like garbage for the first three quarters when his team is depending on him. That is what Harden did in game six versus the Clippers. Houston won despite him. Harden did the same thing in game three versus Golden State and Houston got blown out. Harden has had at least one garbage game in every series. That is not MVP caliber play.

                The question is why does this happen and the answer is that his skill set may enable him to put up numbers during the regular season in a given system but that does not mean he is really the best player (or second best player) in the league.

                9. Since the Rockets have done better throughout the playoffs with Harden off of the court then on the court, your question can be answered by simply looking at Harden’s backups on the Houston roster. Obviously, they can come in and duplicate Harden’s impact (if not his individual stats).

                10. The Rockets needed a historic comeback—with Harden safely on the bench, where he could do no damage—in order to reach the Western Conference Finals. They are now down 3-0 in the Western Conference Finals. There is essentially zero chance that they will win the championship this season. You may only now be realizing that they have zero chance but I realized this before the playoffs started. A team that has zero chance of winning a championship is not a championship contender.

                11/12. I give Harden credit for being a good, All-Star caliber player. He is not on the level of LeBron James or Kevin Durant or Kobe Bryant. He is not even on the level of Stephen Curry or Russell Westbrook. Harden’s game is too quirky and too one dimensional (no defense; scores best in a particular system) to lead a team to a championship.

                Just the fact that a player is the highest paid player and that a team is built around him does not make him a franchise player. Juwan Howard was once Washington’s highest paid player. Another Washington player, Gilbert Arenas, was also a highest paid player around whom the team was built.

                Also, contrary to what you wrote, the ball is not always in Harden’s hands at the end of games. In the playoffs, Harden is often on the bench at the end of games or his team is so far behind it does not make a difference. How many times in Harden’s playoff career has he actually come through with the ball in his hands at the end of games?

              • Columnist

                May 25th 2015 @ 5:09pm
                David Friedman said | May 25th 2015 @ 5:09pm | ! Report

                Express34Texas:

                I don’t completely disregard plus/minus. I used it extensively in my reports about Team USA and I placed it in proper context by describing exactly how/why Team USA performed better/worse with certain combinations of players.

                Why is it “absurd” to question the value of a player who plays big minutes, puts up big individual stats and yet his team does worse during the playoffs when he is on the court, particularly when that player has been benched (or ineffective) in several fourth quarters?

                Instead of insulting me or questioning my objectivity or citing to authority by quoting other people’s opinions, just offer a rational explanation for how Harden can be so valuable if his team actually does better without him? My theory is that Harden is a very good player whose numbers are bolstered by his team’s style of play but that his weaknesses get exposed in the playoffs. Howard’s presence basically covered for him in the first two rounds this year but nothing can cover for Harden against Golden State.

                How big of a travesty would it have been if your beloved so-called experts had voted Harden ahead of Curry in the MVP race?

                When OKC let Harden go I said that OKC would not miss him. OKC’s record improved the year after Harden left, even though OKC had already been so good that it was difficult to post a better record. I also said that Harden would struggle to shoot .450 from the field in the playoffs as a first option and that his teams would lose in the first or second round. They lost in the first round two years in a row. This year, Howard carried them past the Clippers but they are down 3-0 in the Western Conference Finals. I offered predictions and my reasons for my predictions and my predictions have pretty much come true.

              • Columnist

                May 25th 2015 @ 7:34pm
                Ryan O'Connell said | May 25th 2015 @ 7:34pm | ! Report

                James Harden has played horribly in the Western Conference Finals?

                Is this the same James Harden that had 28 points (shooting 11/20 from the field and 5/6 from the line) 11 rebounds, 9 assists and 4 steals in game one?

                The same James Harden that had 38 points (13/21 and 9/10) 10 rebounds and 9 assists in game 2?

                I wish I played that horribly.

                1. I think you your evidence that Harden is ‘not as valuable as people say’ is a little flimsy, at best. Houston being outscored with him on the court in these playoffs, OKC’s record when he left (with two MVPs candidates still on their roster), and him not advancing without his second banana available/fully fit. That’s it?

                2. I did answer your question, Read it again. Just because Harden’s skill-set hasn’t expanded since OKC doesn’t mean he hasn’t improved. He essentially did everything anyway! Now he just does it all game (apart from his D). Meanwhile, your boy Dwight is the EXACT same player he was in his second year.

                3. I didn’t use Win Shares in isolation at all. I used Win Shares, ‘Value over Replacement Player’ and Playoff PER. That’s three variables David, so how is that ‘isolation’?

                4. I’ll mention it now for the third time, but I removed Harden’s alleged ‘stat padding’ games in the Clippers series, and his stats were still excellent.

                5. Yes, you do have to answer that one. Are you saying 129 NBA media journalists were wrong? All of them? And you’re right?

                6. Really clutching at straws now. When did I say “when Harden sits on the bench in comebacks it proves his value”. You’re just making stuff up now.

                7. Yes, Howard does need help. All players do. Not a massive insight.

                8. So when an MVP candidate misses an entire game and his team wins, they remain valuable. But when an MVP candidate plays badly for three quarters, doesn’t play the fourth quarter, and his team wins, he’s not valuable? Strange logic.

                Meanwhile, your over-reliance on one strange game (game 6 vs the Clippers) is a little bizarre. It’s not quite the sample size needed to make such drastic conclusions upon a player. Almost everyone agrees that a strange set of circumstances led to that win, which makes it an anomaly. It’s the NBA, crazy stuff happens all the time.

                9. The Rockets are better off without Harden? You should call Darryl Morey. You can probably save him some money with that advice.

                10. The Rockets had zero chance of winning the title this year? They’re in the Western Conference Finals, and they lost game one by 4, and game two by 1, but you believe they had ZERO chance of winning the title. OK.

                11/12. “Just the fact that a player is the highest paid player and that a team is built around him does not make him a franchise player. “ Never said it did. I listed six other variables that go towards being labeled a ‘franchise player’, of which Harden ticks all the boxes.

                “Also, contrary to what you wrote, the ball is not always in Harden’s hands at the end of games. In the playoffs, Harden is often on the bench at the end of games or his team is so far behind it does not make a difference.”

                You’re just getting a little silly now. The ball IS in Harden’s hands at the end of games. No, not EVERY single game David, you’re quite right. My bad.

                “How many times in Harden’s playoff career has he actually come through with the ball in his hands at the end of games?”

                I don’t know the actual number, but it would be pretty impressive. Heck, why don’t we go back to his OKC days just for the one I can actually remember vividly?
                https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJQOsM_jTDE

              • May 26th 2015 @ 5:35am
                express34texas said | May 26th 2015 @ 5:35am | ! Report

                HOU has been outscored in the playoffs, period, regardless of who is in there, even before the WCF. It’s an anomaly, and doesn’t prove a thing about Harden not being valuable. The only game where Harden had a bad +/- in which HOU won was game 6 in the 2nd round, which is another anomaly game. That was LAC choking more than HOU winning. Howard also didn’t score in the 4th. HOU’s role players finally got their act together, and it was working, so why change it? Mchale finally got his act together and stopped the stupid Hack-a-Jordan, which didn’t work. But, overall, this is a fool’s gold, got lucky on one night. +/- is very volatile like you’ve said lots of times with many variables. I’ll just completely disregard it here like you do when you don’t like what it says to fit your purpose. HOU needs Harden to play well and score to win, which is evidenced by his +/-. Harden scored at least 30 points an astonishing 39x this season, easily best in the league. HOU is 33-6 in such games, and they’re 10-1 when he goes for 40.

                OKC hasn’t improved since Harden left. And Harden was a huge reason why they made the Finals in the first place, they don’t make it without him. He was OKC’s 2nd best player in the WCF in 2012. They haven’t made the finals since. Losing him was huge, and it’s showed. And of course OKC should still be good with 2 big-time players, a great 3rd in Ibaka, and a solid cast. Why is this so hard to see? Harden didn’t compliment Westbrook/Durant the greatest, and he was too good to be a 3rd banana and coming off the bench.

                Interesting how you have continually said how Harden won’t be valuable until he wins with HOU in the playoffs. Now, he has made the WCF, and losing to GS isn’t anything to be ashamed about. GS clearly has the better team. Big deal if Howard is playing well, which isn’t every game, btw. Is Curry not also getting huge contributions from his team? Why does it only go one way concerning Harden, and not everyone else?

                Curry has played slightly better than Harden or anyone else for that matter in the playoffs so far, but he also has the most help. However, the MVP is for the regular season only. Harden carried his team with much less help to the 3rd best record in the league. Still waiting to hear how you can explain HOU only doing 2 wins worse without Howard than with him, and this somehow doesn’t say a thing about how good Harden is. Yet, non-AS Howard is supposedly the best player on HOU. Harden kept HOU an elite team with Howard out, or wait, maybe that was Brewer, Terry, Ariza, or Smith(a guy who you pump up a lot, but his previous 2 teams have gotten a lot better without him).

                My so-called experts are head coaches, GMs, etc., most past players; you know, the real experts. I’ve heard absolutely nothing from anyone saying Harden isn’t a current great, and you’ve still provided no evidence saying otherwise. The media can be all over the place, never know with them. Stat guys might like Harden, but they like Curry more. And Curry is much more loved by the media and fans. So, saying Harden gets extra votes/credit for his efficient-style of play is wrong, at least compared to Curry.

                Nobody is pumping Harden up more than they should. David, I know the way you evaluate players, and that criteria has changed drastically concerning Harden. You’ve always said perennial AS, 1st team players, 25/5/5 guys, leading their teams to high regular season wins and deep into the playoffs are what defines elite players. Harden fits all this criteria, and he’s put his team on his back when Howard missed 41 games this season. He’s a high steals guy, not an elite defender, but much better than you’re making him out to be. He’s awesome at the rim, drawing fouls, hitting FTs, fastbreaks, and 3’s. He’s an elite passer/rebounder for his position, plus is great size for a SG and very durable so far. Those are the most important areas. And he’s actually quite good from the midrange as evidenced by the clinic in game 1 in the WCF he put on Thompson. He just doesn’t shoot many of these shots, which is more of a team philosophy than anything else.

              • May 26th 2015 @ 8:03am
                express34texas said | May 26th 2015 @ 8:03am | ! Report

                I also don’t understand the .450 FG% repeated comment. While I think FG%, 3 pt. %, efg%, FT%, and TS% all shouldn’t be ignored, if you’re only going to cherry pick one of these statsf, TS% is far and away the best stat to use, as it involves all areas of shooting. I understand why you don’t use that, because Harden is stellar for TS%, and is much better than your guy, James, who is shooting absolutely horrid in these playoffs. He just has the luxury of having a much easier path to the finals. Sure, Harden is no Kobe or James, but his TS% is better then both for regular season and playoffs. Using any shooting % to further your point about Harden being quite indispensable actually does the exact opposite.

                Harden is also getting to the line 10.1x/game in the playoffs. And his career FTA/game in the playoffs for his career are only slightly down from his regular season career attempts: 7.2 to 7.0. While you and others(myself included) might not like how he sometimes draws fouls, it’s a moot point. And most of the top players have some type of seemingly cheap move that gets them to the line. The fact that you use Harden’s flailing as an argument against him being very valuable indicates bias coming into play. Just because you never thought Harden would be this good, it’s ok. Nobody is right all the time, and it’s hard to predict the future. Things and players can change. And why isn’t Harden allowed to have good teammates, while Durant, James, Curry, etc. can? What does Harden losing to OKC in 2013 with a much inferior cast prove anything? Or even losing to another great team, POR, in 2014. He was still only 24 last year. Curry didn’t even make the playoffs when he was 24. The west stacked.

                Does SA or DAL or POR and the top players on both of those teams not very good or valuable, since they lost in the 1st round this year? Almost everyone you mentioned over Harden hardly showed they were better than him this year in the playoffs, even if they actually played.

              • May 26th 2015 @ 9:47am
                astro said | May 26th 2015 @ 9:47am | ! Report

                OK David, here’s a question…you are the coach of the Rockets, and your team is down by 7pts with 2mins to play.

                By your logic, you’d bench Harden, right?

                I’d love to be in that huddle:

                David – “OK guys, we’re down by 5…James, its time you took a seat.”

                Harden – “WTF? Coach, I’ve just been named all 1st team NBA, and I’m the leading scorer on the team!”

                David – “I know, but remember a few games ago when the Clippers collapsed? Well, that happened purely because you were on the bench, so rest up.”

                Dwight – “Coach, this is crazy. I know you think I’m the reason we’re in the Western conference finals, but in reality, my stats are almost exactly the same as the regular season…only difference is that I’m playing more minutes, so my rebounds have gone up. Please put Harden in!”

                David – “Don’t worry Dwight. Once we come back, I’ll put Harden back in for the last 2mins so he can pad his stats.”

              • May 27th 2015 @ 1:03am
                express34texas said | May 27th 2015 @ 1:03am | ! Report

                If David thinks HOU will have more success if Harden sits out 4th qtrs. primarily because of his +/- in one game, then he must also think that Curry was the direct cause of GS losing last night with his -20, while his team lost by only 13. For someone who always talks about the downfalls of +/-, you sure don’t get it. He also probably thinks HOU wins last night if Harden didn’t play. Harden has now dominated 3 of the 4 games in the WCF.

                HOU is now 34-6 when Harden goes for 30 this season/playoffs. They are just 31-27 when he doesn’t. You’ve applied this same principle for Kobe, saying that LAL needed him to score a lot to win more, contrary to what a lot of people said that he should shoot a specific # of times. Harden actually does it while shooting less times, a more efficient scorer. Doesn’t mean he’s better than Kobe, but that’s saying a lot.

                Questions that need to be answered that haven’t yet if Harden is barely AS level as you say:

                1. What ‘real’ or even ‘non-real’ nba experts say Harden isn’t a current great?

                2. How many wins does HOU get without Harden this year if he’s so indispensable? 29-12 with Howard, 27-14 without Howard. Do they even make the playoffs? If they do, it’s probably the 8 seed at best, which means 1st round exit. Last time I checked, winning 2 series is better than 1st round exit.

                3. Why did HOU only do slightly better with Howard than without him? Also, Howard’s only made it 3x out of the 1st round without Harden, and that was mostly in the weak East, despite having 4 straight 50-win teams. Making it to the ECF isn’t the same as making it to the WCF either. Some teams might have tougher 1st round opps in the West than the team that actually comes out of the East has before the Finals.

              • Columnist

                May 27th 2015 @ 5:15am
                David Friedman said | May 27th 2015 @ 5:15am | ! Report

                Ryan:
                “Horribly” was a poor word choice on my part. Harden played very well in games one and two and very badly in game three. I should have said that he did not display the consistency one would like to see from an MVP-caliber player. “Horribly” only applies to game three, not the first three games overall.

                1. We will have to agree to disagree. I made two predictions when Harden left OKC: I predicted that OKC would not be worse without him and that Houston would not be a championship contender if Harden was the team’s best player. OKC improved their record in the first year after Harden left, but subsequently OKC has been decimated by injuries. Even with the injuries, though, OKC has as many Western Conference Finals appearances in the past three years as Harden’s Rockets.

                2. I don’t think you understand what I mean by a skill set evaluation. I mean a report like the kind that a scout would write, focused not on stats but on skills. For instance, Player A scores well driving to the left but if you crowd him and force him right he shoots a much lower percentage. I don’t think that Harden’s skills have improved that much in the past three years, though I think he improved a bit in this most recent season. What has changed is the amount of time he handles the ball. In other words, if he played for OKC he still would be the third option behind a healthy Durant and Westbrook.

                3. Again, you misunderstood what I wrote. Saying that Harden has a good WS number without pointing out that this metric produces strange results is what I meant by “isolation.” Why is Harden’s WS good? What does this number mean? The fact that he is also rated highly by other metrics does not strengthen WS if WS is inherently flawed.

                4. Again, I did not say “remove his games.” I cited points that Harden scored when the outcome was decided. I referenced 19 points scored when the outcome was decided. Divide 19 by 7 and that means Harden padded his scoring average in that series by nearly 3 ppg.

                5. One, they did not all vote for Harden as MVP. Two, yes, sometimes a large number of media members make mistakes. Just because a lot of people believe something does not mean it is true.

                6. You have not criticized anything that Harden does. All you do is offer excuses for him. I have said, for three years running, that Harden is a very good player. I just don’t think that he is as good as Morey or some media members say. You defend Harden like you are getting a portion of his contract.

                7. What’s your point here?

                8. When an MVP candidate actually is playing, his teammates expect him to play well. If a player is out of action, roles change and other players can adjust. That should be obvious. I am not “overly” relying on one game. You just choose to selectively read what I have written about Harden. You also interpret what has happened differently than I do, which is fine, but interpretations are not the same thing as facts.

                It is a fact that Harden has been a non-factor in several fourth quarter comebacks and it is a fact that Houston has been outscored during the playoffs with Harden on the court. You can interpret those facts however you want but you cannot pretend that those facts do not exist. I am also pretty sure that if those same facts applied to a player who you do not like as much as you like Harden then you would interpret those facts differently.

                9. I did not say that the Rockets are better off without Harden. I said that they have performed better with him not on the court, which tends to suggest that he is overrated.

                10. Yes, in my opinion the Rockets had a slim to none chance of winning the title this year and, yes, teams down 3-0 in an NBA playoff series have never come back. I don’t expect Houston to be the first.

                The bottom line is, this year Harden has been a little better than I expected when he left OKC but, even at that, the result is ultimately going to be the same as I predicted: the Rockets will not win the championship and they will (likely) be severely outclassed by Golden State (series will probably end 4-1).

              • Columnist

                May 27th 2015 @ 5:52am
                David Friedman said | May 27th 2015 @ 5:52am | ! Report

                Astro:

                Your hypothetical sideline conversation was very funny.

                On a serious note, I think what actually happened was that after Harden played like garbage for three quarters, McHale sat him down, the team played well without Harden and McHale stuck with what worked.

                I have repeatedly said that Harden is a very good player. I never said that he should be benched in the last minutes of a close game or that he should be benched when he is playing well. Your satire is funny but does not address anything that I actually said.

                It would be interesting to hear an explanation of why, if Harden is so valuable, he can be replaced (by Kevin Martin in OKC for an entire season and in multiple fourth quarters of playoff games) without problems.

          • Columnist

            May 22nd 2015 @ 1:31am
            David Friedman said | May 22nd 2015 @ 1:31am | ! Report

            Astro:

            Even the most ardent advocates of “advanced basketball statistics” admit that the individual defensive statistics are not especially accurate. If you look back to previous seasons, Carlos Boozer–whose defense is so poor that he was often benched in the fourth quarter when he played for the Bulls–ranked highly on defense according to some “advanced” statistics.

            The YouTube videos provide a small sampling of what those who regularly watch Harden know, namely that he is often out of position, that he gets steals by taking poor risks and that he is a subpar defensive player.

            • May 22nd 2015 @ 10:42am
              astro said | May 22nd 2015 @ 10:42am | ! Report

              Agree that individual stats for defense aren’t great, but they’re better than inherently biased perceptions which the ‘eye test’ is often influenced by.

              That’s my issue…I think its lazy to just say Harden is a terrible defender, based on last years Youtube clips and how you or I choose to watch the game, especially when the stats we do have support the notion that both Harden himself and the Rockets have improved on defense this year.

              Isn’t it possible that Harden has improved on defense, and he’s not the liability he was last year? Maybe he’s trying harder, or maybe he’s just improving thanks to playing alongside Ariza and Beverley instead of Lin and Parsons, but either way I don’t think we can disregard what the stats tell us based on personal perceptions where Youtube clips are the only form of supporting evidence.

              • Columnist

                May 22nd 2015 @ 8:12pm
                David Friedman said | May 22nd 2015 @ 8:12pm | ! Report

                Astro:

                Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of good perimeter defenders: those who can “lock down” a tough matchup without much help and those who are good help defenders because they wreak havoc all over the court. Some defenders are good at both skills (think Scottie Pippen and Kobe Bryant). Harden is obviously not a lock down defender; he never guards the other team’s top perimeter threat unless there has been a switch or he is caught in transition. Harden is assigned to a non-threat but he tends to ball watch and get beaten back door. Sure, Harden gets some steals but basketball needs a “caught stealing” stat like baseball has; Harden’s steals come at the expense of giving up a lot of easy scoring opportunities. Good defenders get steals without compromising the team defense.

                The YouTube videos are just one piece of evidence that show how he typically plays defense. I have not seen any evidence that he has improved very much. Harden has poor positioning, he “dies” on screens rather than fight through them and he often just stands in one spot throughout a defensive possession. There were a couple funny sequences during last night’s game, both around the 4 or 5 minute mark of the second quarter. During one possession, he seemed glued to the floor for an entire defensive possession and eventually got beat by a back door cut. On another, he failed to follow his man through the lane but Golden State missed the shot and the defensive rebound literally dropped right into his hands without him even jumping. I guess that rebound is yet another sign of his ongoing greatness. The reality is that a player who plays heavy minutes is going to accumulate stats unless he is a total stiff but that does not mean that other players could not fill his role. If Harden were doing indispensable things, then the Rockets would be much worse when he is not in the game.

    • Editor

      May 21st 2015 @ 9:13pm
      Tristan Rayner said | May 21st 2015 @ 9:13pm | ! Report

      I find it really easy to dislike Harden who clearly exaggerates contact and draws fouls. I find it really easy to see NBA referees apply a slightly different view where not everything is called a foul.

      That said, I thought he was very, very good against the Warriors. He made some seriously brilliant contest plays without drawing fouls like a demon.

      • May 22nd 2015 @ 9:13am
        Clark said | May 22nd 2015 @ 9:13am | ! Report

        I saw that Curry got fined for flopping in game 1 (I mean it was), but how does Harden not rack up fines when his exaggerations are so much more obvious, kicking the leg out of shots, using forearms to push off and cocking the neck back everytime to get that free throw line. The most frustrating thing is that he has absolutely no intention of scoring the basketball on most of these plays, as a fan it is painful to watch.

        • Columnist

          May 22nd 2015 @ 8:18pm
          David Friedman said | May 22nd 2015 @ 8:18pm | ! Report

          Clark:

          In an earlier era, a player like Harden who tried to fool the refs by flopping and not even trying to score would have been dealt with harshly by opposing players. One time, a player (I think that it was Mike Riordan but I am not sure and it does not really matter) flopped and drew a foul on Dave Cowens, who was not pleased. The next time, Cowens just knocked Riordan over and after he drew the whistle, Cowens yelled, “That’s a (bleeping) foul.” Good scorers used to draw fouls by being crafty and getting defenders off balance; Harden just flails his arms and expects to be bailed out, which I guess has turned out to be a reasonable strategy (until it does not work at some point in the playoffs, which has happened every year of his career at some point in the postseason).

          • May 24th 2015 @ 12:12am
            express34texas said | May 24th 2015 @ 12:12am | ! Report

            Completely wrong about that. But, even if you are, who cares? Paul, Griffin, and even James have been known as floppers before, which is way worse. If it works, then keep doing. Harden baits his defenders into reaching for the ball when he drives, which usually results in a foul. That part involves no flailing, etc., and is the main way he draws his fouls. Also, the times he flails is almost always after he gets fouled. He might have to see the foul so the officials see it easier and call it, but it is a foul. He’s usually not fooling the officials like floppers do. And even if he or other players do, it’s part of the game. Just because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean this makes Harden a less inferior player.

            Also, very werid article, especially after Harden dominated in games 1/2 in WCF. If a player can lead his team to the WCF as the clear ‘man,’ he’s certainly good enough to lead a team to the title and an elite player. Love the terrible examples you mention Harden with. There just isn’t good examples to compare him with, so obviously you have to really stretch for that one.

      • May 22nd 2015 @ 10:49am
        astro said | May 22nd 2015 @ 10:49am | ! Report

        There’s an art to Harden’s ability to draw fouls. Its part of what makes him a great scorer. I agree, its ugly, but its hard to argue against its effectiveness.

        Harden took 715 free throws this year…second place is Westbrook with 546. When you add the number of fouls he draws with the fact that he leads the league in 3pt assists, it tells you that when Harden drives into the lane, he either takes a close range/high % shot, draws the foul or finds the open man on the perimeter…and he does this better than anyone in the league.

        • May 22nd 2015 @ 11:59am
          Swampy said | May 22nd 2015 @ 11:59am | ! Report

          Which All-Star shooting guard would you rather guard one on one? James Harden or Kyle Korver?

          Case dismissed.

    • May 23rd 2015 @ 8:50am
      joe said | May 23rd 2015 @ 8:50am | ! Report

      You’re comparing Harden against two extremely different groups of players.
      Saying he isn’t Kobe,LeBron,Duncan.Who is? You’re talking about 3 guys who are in any list of top 10 players of all time!
      99.9% of players who have or ever will play in the NBA will never be in that category.
      Then putting him in a category with 3 shitheads like Carmelo,Starbury & Gilbert Arenas?
      Carmelo did win a title with Syracuse but in the pros he’s been a constant underachiever.
      Harden has accomplished more than any of those 3 clowns.

      You can debate numbers all day but if you’re starting an NBA team today Harden is a guy who is in the mix as one of the most sought after players.
      Theres probably 5 or 6 players I’d take ahead of him right now but thats it.
      The biggest mistake OKC ever made was letting Harden go,they got cheap claiming the usual “small market” excuse prevented them from keeping him.
      Had they kept him they probably would have went back to the finals again in that time.

      • Columnist

        May 24th 2015 @ 12:18am
        David Friedman said | May 24th 2015 @ 12:18am | ! Report

        Joe:

        At a minimum, I would take (in no particular order and assuming that each player is healthy) LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis, Tim Duncan, Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Paul, John Wall and Kawhi Leonard over Harden. Even as an older player, Duncan is still a more effective two-way player than Harden.

        If Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose can get/stay healthy I would take them over Harden as well.

        Anthony’s Nuggets took the eventual champion Lakers to six games in the 2009 Western Conference Finals. Harden has not yet bettered that as a first option. Arenas and Marbury put up big scoring and assist numbers without paying much attention to defense, much like Harden does now. Take away Howard (and Harden’s one Finals run as a third option) and Harden would not have had any more playoff success than those guys did.

        • May 27th 2015 @ 1:21am
          express34texas said | May 27th 2015 @ 1:21am | ! Report

          Arenas, Marbury, and Melo have all never made the 1st team all-nba. Harden’s already done it 2x. Of the 3, only Melo has been an MVP candidate once, maybe a fringe one another time, but not a serious one like Harden was this year. Arenas and Marbury never had much team success. Marbury never made it out of the 1st round, except with a very limited role with BOS in 09. Harden’s already had one finals appearance, where he played a big role, and was OKC”s 2nd best player in the WCF in 12. What you like to neglect which isn’t true, is that OKC never makes the 12 Finals without Harden. He’s now led his team to back-to-back 50-win seasons and a WCF appearance. Melo, is a future HOFer, and has just made it out of the 1st round 2x, but remember that Harden is just 25. Be careful with this argument, since T-MAC never made it out of the 1st round his entire career, and he played with Yao for many years. Melo was probably at least borderline elite player for a year or two of his career as well.

          Why should Harden not get to play with any good players like James, Kobe, Shaq, Duncan, Durant, etc.? Howard missed half the season and wasn’t even an AS this year. Howard should be the one thanking Harden for pulling his weight to get the #2 seed, which they won the tiebreak with LAC, and probably was the difference in winning their 2nd round series against LAC, and not being a 1st or 2nd round loss. How many titles does LAL without Kobe during Shaq’s time or Kobe win without Pau? Or James win without great teams all around him, or Jordan without Pippen, etc. For someone who talks about the double standard against Kobe so much, why do you apply it to Harden so often? Name one player who didn’t need help to win.

          • Columnist

            May 27th 2015 @ 5:30am
            David Friedman said | May 27th 2015 @ 5:30am | ! Report

            Express34Texas:

            Melo has finished third and sixth in MVP voting.

            I am not applying a double standard to Harden. I made two predictions when Harden left OKC:

            1) OKC will be just as good without Harden.
            2) Houston will not be a championship contender with Harden as the best player.

            OKC improved in the first post-Harden year but then all of the injuries have made it impossible to fairly test my prediction. OKC did make it to the 2014 WCF, though, in spite of Westbrook recovering from two knee surgeries. How many people predicted that losing Harden would devastate OKC? That definitely did not happen.

            Regarding Houston, the Rockets lost in the first round twice with Houston, as I expected. This year, the Rockets got past a feuding Dallas team, were outplayed most of the way by LAC but pulled off a great comeback and they are now down 3-1 to Golden State. If you think that this refutes what I predicted, that is fine. I am not yet willing to put Harden with LeBron, Kobe, Duncan, etc. I don’t see Harden as a “foundational” player. I see him as a very good player.

            • May 28th 2015 @ 1:32am
              express34texas said | May 28th 2015 @ 1:32am | ! Report

              Yes, you do apply double standard to Harden, and it’s easy to see for everyone else. You’ve now changed your excuses about him once he’s made the WCF this year to fit your narrative about him. Marbury and Arenas never did much in the playoffs and never had a deep playoff run, and neither will sniff the HOF. Melo was at least a near-elite player for 2, possibly 3 years. Of these 3 players, none of them have any 1st-team all-nba selections. Melo’s also led his teams to multiple 50-win seasons and one deep playoff run. He is a clearcut future HOFer, so if Harden is like him, nothing wrong with that. T-Mac, who I know you consider a great player and much better than he really was, never made it out of the 1st round despite having several good opportunities and good enough teams to do so. If you want to make excuses for T-Mac or even Iverson, who went 1-8 in the playoffs in his 2 years with Melo in DEN, then you need to do the same for Harden, especially since you only consider him only the 2nd best player in HOU. And now that Harden has led his team to the WCF, that fits another criteria on your elite status list, which means yes, Harden could be the best player on a contender, and he’s already better than some past best players on title teams in recent years.

              OKC has yet to the make the finals since Harden left. You want to cite regular season success only as some type of proof OKC is better without Harden. You do understand the nba has a ‘playoffs’ after the regular season, right? OKC probably makes the WCF in 2013 if they still have Harden, and possibly the finals. OKC has a much better chance to beat SA in 2014, and if so, they’re probably the champs if they have Harden. And OKC is definitely making the playoffs this year if they had Harden. Sure, this is all speculation, but it’s not too hard to see. And it’s not really great insight to say if a team has 3 MVP candidate-players and loses one of them, especially since they’re all similar-type players, they’re not going to be much worse, especially with a great cast behind them. If Harden, Paul, and Curry were all on the same team, and then one of them leaves, that team won’t be much worse. The ideal situation is to have guards, wings, and bigs that best compliment each other, and your best players playing diferent positions.

    • May 26th 2015 @ 4:44pm
      astro said | May 26th 2015 @ 4:44pm | ! Report

      Right on cue, Harden goes for 45 against the best defense in the league…

      • May 27th 2015 @ 12:23am
        The Unnatural said | May 27th 2015 @ 12:23am | ! Report

        Lol David’s Harden hate is reaching the point of absurdity. He downplays every positive thing he does and magnifies every bad game or play he has. I said it near the end of the regular season on his 20 Second Timeout Blog and I’ll say it again, the only way David was ever going to give Harden credit was if the Rockets made a deep playoff run with Howard out of the lineup or severely limited by injury. In any other scenario, Harden is going to get no credit for good play. The last time I saw an obsession to denigrate a player this intense was Henry Abbott’s anti-Kobe crusade from a few years ago and Skip Bayless with Lebron James. David is cherry-picking facts and scenarios, using t/- for the first time to illustrate how awful Harden is while ignoring game-by-game +/- because it doesn’t support his position and in general, twisting reality and facts. He’s even gotten to the point of ignoring his own criteria of a guy averaging 25/5/5 on 45%+ FG on a contending team. It’s pretty funny. The length he’s going to prove that he was right about the Harden trade have almost gotten comical.

        • Columnist

          May 27th 2015 @ 5:47am
          David Friedman said | May 27th 2015 @ 5:47am | ! Report

          The Unnatural:

          As I recall, you like Harden so much that you wanted me to credit him with 25-5-5 status before he ever achieved it. In any case, I never said that any one stat or category defines a player. I did note that most of the players who achieved 25-5-5 multiple times put together great overall resumes. Maybe Harden will do the same. Why do we have to rush to credit him with things that he has not done?

          I used plus/minus in many of my articles about Team USA’s performances in FIBA play. I think that plus/minus is useful if the sample size is large OR if you actually watch the games and analyze why the numbers came out the way that they did. Regarding Harden, his plus/minus in the playoffs is negative because he was on the court when Houston was being outscored early in games but he sat out during big comebacks. I don’t think that this is coincidental. I think that his impact has always been less than his individual numbers suggest.

          What do you think is the difference for Houston in this year’s playoffs? They were first round fodder for two years. Now they are in the WCF. Harden has had some great games and some horrible games. He has sat on the bench during big comebacks. Is he really the reason why Houston beat Dallas and LAC? Do you think that Howard having flashbacks to 2009, blocking shots and finishing lobs, has nothing to do with this? I think that Howard has been the difference.

          • May 27th 2015 @ 11:40am
            The Unnatural said | May 27th 2015 @ 11:40am | ! Report

            1. I’m actually not a Harden fan at all. I’m fairly indifferent to him, but I think your arguments against him are dated and his play has improved to the point where the last thing you can say about him is the plus/minus and you’re picking and choosing which games and stats you want to value to suit your original position. For someone who says thay stats can be mislesding, you’re doing a good job of proving that they can be with your continued anti-Harden crusade.

            2.Furthermore, Harden is in the process of putting his career together. He’s 25, put up his first 25, 5, 5 season this year and got pretty close the previous two seasons. When he was just 22, he was traded from OKC and you proclaimed that he was not a franchise player and barely better better than Kevin Martin. Ignoring the fact that 22 year olds often improve as they enter their primes and not acknowledging that a 22 yr old being as good as a prime Kevin Martin is not a bad player. I don’t recall granting him 25, 5, 5 prematurely, but if I did, it’s because his rebounding stats easily rounded up to 5 the previous 2 seasons.

            3. A few days ago Ryan posted a game by game list of Harden’s plus/minus. And Harden had a negative score in just 3 games if I recall. A fact you’ve ignored. Your continued use of the aggregate plus/minus to “prove” your point is an example of using statistics without providing context. The game by game plus/minus log tells us MUCH more about Harden’s value than the aggregate you’re now clinging to. The Rockets are not better with Harden off the floor and the stats bear that out.

            4. You ask why I’m rushing to credit him with things he hasn’t done and I’m wondering what things I’ve credit him for. I haven’t said he should be the MVP and I haven’t said he’s better than Westbrook and Durant. What I am doing is giving him credit for leading his team to a 27-14 record without Howard (another stat you ignore) and great overall play this postseason. I ask you why you refuse to acknowledge that he has improved and that, at minimum, you underestimated how good a 22 year old Harden could become. That would be more reasonable than trying to find ways to discredit him.

            5. What has changed this year relative to last year? Harden has improved, the Rockets got a better first round draw and Howard (and the supporting cast), has played well. And Howard playing well isn’t anymore of an indictment of Harden’s ability anymore than the Lakers being first round fodder prior to getting Gasol. Everyone needs help. And before you say I’m comparing Kobe to Harden, I’m not. I’m illustrsting a point.

            • Columnist

              May 27th 2015 @ 11:50pm
              David Friedman said | May 27th 2015 @ 11:50pm | ! Report

              The Unnatural:

              I think that Harden not being a factor in the fourth quarter comebacks versus Dallas and the Clippers is hardly “dated.”

              Harden has a negative plus/minus in eight of the Rockets’ 16 playoff games. I don’t know what Ryan or you are talking about. Ryan made so many bogus points that it was time consuming to refute them all. Sorry if I missed refuting that one point, but now you have the correct information.

              We can even look a little deeper. In four of the Rockets’ nine wins–including most notably game six versus the Clippers–Harden’s plus/minus is less than the margin of victory, meaning that the Rockets did better when he was on the bench than when he was in the game.

              When I say that Harden is overrated because of his skill set limitations, you and others say you want to see stats. When I cite stats showing that during the playoffs the Rockets are doing better without Harden than with Harden you say that I am cherry picking games. Well, there are only 16 playoff games from which to choose. My prediction about Harden when he left OKC primarily related to the playoffs, so those are the games on which I will focus. I never said that Harden would not put up regular season numbers or that Houston would have a bad regular season record. I said that if he were Houston’s best player it would be difficult for Houston to win a championship. Since I said that, they lost in the first round twice and now they are getting waxed in the Western Conference Finals.

              Houston’s playoff run past the first round this year has been fueled by Howard, Smith, Ariza and the supporting cast. Is Harden contributing? Of course he is. He is a very good player and he is having the best postseason of his career. Is Harden carrying the Rockets in terms of wins and losses? No. Harden has been unproductive in several games and even in his productive games the numbers show that the Rockets do just as well or better with him on the bench. Those are facts. You may think that there are mitigating factors surrounding those facts but they are facts. They are not my opinions.

              Maybe your guy will keep improving. Maybe Morey will keep adding good players around Howard and Harden. Maybe I am just flat wrong.

              But I don’t see evidence showing that what I predicted is so unreasonable or has been refuted.

              Every 2015 MVP candidate who participated in this year’s playoffs has a better plus/minus number than Harden except for Davis, whose team was first round fodder. Maybe that means nothing. I think that it is evidence that in the postseason, when the games count the most, Harden is not as good/impactful as some people think.

              If you think that I am cherry picking games or focusing on irrelevant stats, I would be interested to know if there are any MVPs or MVP caliber players who went through an entire playoff run on a top four seeded team who had a negative plus/minus through more than a dozen playoff games and who sat the bench more than once during that playoff run while their teams made key fourth quarter runs.

              Harden’s fans just look at his per game averages and say that since he has a lot of points and a lot of assists he must be valuable. I am saying let’s look a little deeper and try to figure out why Houston won those first two playoff series. Harden put up numbers in the last two years in the playoffs and Houston lost.

              Part of the problem–if there is a problem–is that the playoffs are still happening. So, I write an article after Harden plays terribly and the Rockets fall into an 0-3 hole and then Harden has a 45 point game. I’ll admit that I did not think that Harden would have a 45 point playoff game with that kind of efficiency. On the other hand, unless we believe that the Rockets are going to mount an unprecedented comeback from 3-0, all Harden did was extend a lost cause. It is impressive to score 45 points efficiently in a playoff game at any time against any opponent but Houston really could have used that at some point in the first three games. There was more pressure during those games because the series was still up for grabs.

              • May 28th 2015 @ 3:36am
                The Unnatural said | May 28th 2015 @ 3:36am | ! Report

                I don’t know how many times I need to say I’m not a Harden or Rockets fan lol. I’m a Lakers fan. I have no investment whatsoever in pushing Harden. Instead of simply trusting yours or Ryan’s numbers, I did my own quick research of Harden’s plus/minuses. The biggest thing with the Rockets this postseason is that they have been involved in a number of blowout games on both sides. Obviously, being involved in a blowout means more players will have a negative plus/minus. Harden has had 7 games on the negative side (one of them being a -1 in the first round). But instead of saying the Rockets as a whole have been inconsistent, you lay the entire blame at the feet of Harden and frame the situation as if the Rockets have been winning in spite of him or only because of Howard (and Smith). Which isn’t the case. And if one wanted to, they could make similar claims about how the Rockets are winning in spite of Howard. The only game one can make an argument the Rockets won in spite of Harden is Game 6 against the Rockets.

                Rd. 1
                Game 1: +15
                Game 2: +9
                Game 3: -1
                Game 4: -13 (Howard -23)
                Game 5: +16

                Rd. 2
                Game 1: -22 (Howard –17)
                Game 2: +14
                Game 3: -16 (Howard –10)
                Game 4: -18 Howard –28)
                Game 5: +23
                Game 6: -21 (Howard +15)
                Game 7: +12

                Rd. 3
                Game 1: -3
                Game 2: +12
                Game 3: -31 (Howard –16)
                Game 4: +21

                Like I mentioned, Harden has had 7 games with a negative games. Howard, as you can see above, has had a negative plus/minus in 6 games. Why haven’t you written an article about Howard with the same slant as the ones about Harden? And I don’t see how these numbers prove that the Rockets don’t need Harden. Looking at the games, it seems to me that when Harden plays well, the Rockets win. And when Harden plays bad, the Rockets lose and lose badly. Now if you were to make a claim that Harden needs to be more consistent, I wouldn’t dispute it. But to act as if he’s a non-factor in their fortunes is dishonesty.

            • Columnist

              May 28th 2015 @ 9:19am
              David Friedman said | May 28th 2015 @ 9:19am | ! Report

              Unnatural:

              You are a funny guy. Go back through your numbers and you will see that Harden has had eight negative games, not seven. I pointed this very simple error out before and you still want to argue about it. If you cannot get even the most basic facts straight there is not much basis for further discussion.

              Enjoy the games and thank you for taking the time to read and respond.

              • May 29th 2015 @ 11:59pm
                The Unnatural said | May 29th 2015 @ 11:59pm | ! Report

                So because I miscounted that discounts my entire point? LOL Your arrogance is so over the top it’s unbelievable. How about this? Consider yourself down one reader. Your arrogant tone has been a drawback of what is more times than not solid NBA analysis. But after years of seeing the smug manner (a smugness I’ve admittedly returned myself after years of reading you and months of being on the receiving end of for a few months) in which you consistently respond to readers and seeing it myself when I finally began responding, I’d be better served not giving you anymore hits. This is just basketball talk. Not measuring IQs. Good day and I hope the higher ups at The Roar see this post as well.

              • Columnist

                May 30th 2015 @ 3:17am
                David Friedman said | May 30th 2015 @ 3:17am | ! Report

                The Unnatural:

                I am sorry that you are so distressed by my fact-based responses to your criticisms. I respond civilly and in depth to anyone who comments on my work here or at 20 Second Timeout. I support my opinions with facts and logic. I may be wrong (and I have been wrong at times, like everyone else) but I am not deliberately leaving out information or distorting facts. Saying that I am adds nothing to the discussion and is a personal attack.

                As I indicated, it is difficult to carry on a conversation with someone who does not even have the basic facts straight. You cited a wrong number in terms of Harden’s games with a negative plus/minus, I corrected you and you went right back to the wrong number and used that wrong number of games as the major basis for your point in that comment. Anyone can make an honest factual mistake but when someone keeps getting the facts wrong after being corrected then what is the point of continuing that conversation?

                It seems like you cannot even take five minutes off from your years of incessant Harden advocacy to acknowledge how horribly Harden played and how the way that Harden played horribly corresponds exactly with what I have been predicting and saying. Do you really think that Harden’s performance in the WCF–combined with his performance in the 2012 Finals and his performances in Houston’s first round losses–refute my notion that he is not good enough to be the best player on a championship team? Even if I am ultimately proven wrong, how can you say that my prediction/analysis is biased? Based on what Harden has done, what I am saying is quite reasonable.

                I don’t think that Houston beating a feuding Dallas team and narrowly squeaking by the Clippers (with Harden on the bench in the fourth quarter of the sixth game with the Rockets facing elimination) refutes what I have written or outweighs Harden’s evident and ongoing skill set weaknesses.

                It is too bad that you do not feel comfortable discussing this issue in a fact based way and instead resort to incorrectly citing facts.

              • May 30th 2015 @ 3:35am
                The Unnatural said | May 30th 2015 @ 3:35am | ! Report

                You can’t even get through your first sentence withouy snark. That’s all I read, so I won’t be addressing the rest of your post. I’m the third person in this thread to call you out about your arrogant, condescending tone. And it’s a trend I’ve seen from your blog. There’s a point when maybe people aren’t complaining, and you’re an arrogant person with an over-inflated opinion of himself and his NBA knowledge.

              • May 30th 2015 @ 4:29am
                Tokesta said | May 30th 2015 @ 4:29am | ! Report

                Your sensitivity keeps you from objectively reading and understanding the points being presented to you. You’re a typical example of someone having their say and then burying their head in sand. Nothing david said was incorrect. Don’t get butt hurt because someone else points out the fallacious nature of your statements. Snarky? What are you 12? A compelling case has been built and you dismiss it as arrogance. Cmon son. He said harden is a good player..just overrated. Did this playoff series not show that? If it didn’t for you then you’re not reality based but emotionally based. You claiming to not be a harden fan doesn’t add amy validity to your claims.

              • May 30th 2015 @ 4:52am
                The Unnatural said | May 30th 2015 @ 4:52am | ! Report

                And I’ve said multiple times that I didn’t think Harden should have won MVP, nor do I think he’s better than Durant and Westbrook and I said if his claim was that Harden needs to be more consistent, I wouldn’t dispute it. So what’s your point? I enjoy a good debate and have no issues with that. What I don’t like is arrogance shown towards readers, other writers on this site and anyone who disagrees with his opinion. It’s fairly simple, and it’s something I’ve seen for years. Now, I’m choosing to no longer follow such a writer. It’s one thing to disagree and tell me that I’m wrong, it’s another to belittle multiple people. Fairly simple, pal. Two people can disagree without snark. If that is putting my head in the sand to you, so be it. Especially when one is part of a readership that gives you an audience to write to. This is my last comment in regard to this, though.

              • May 30th 2015 @ 5:48am
                Tokesta said | May 30th 2015 @ 5:48am | ! Report

                Its probably hard to suppress frustration 100% when your logical and factual arguments and supporting material are being reduced to being a broken record, thus leading to some snark. And I don’t even like harden. In all honesty I don’t see the whole arrogance thing. We seem to disagree on the definition

      • Columnist

        May 27th 2015 @ 5:34am
        David Friedman said | May 27th 2015 @ 5:34am | ! Report

        Astro:

        Harden played great in game four. That was probably the best game I have ever seen him play. I honestly did not think that he would have a playoff game like that.

        On the other hand, Houston could have really used that in game three, when he stunk. If Houston had won two at home then this would be a three game series.

        Most teams down 3-0 win game four so that they avoid being swept and then they go out in game five. This series will probably follow that same path.

        Scoring 45 points when down 3-0 is something that a very good player can do. Doing that a little earlier in the series and not getting down 3-0 is something an MVP-caliber should do.

    Explore: