Last Word on Pro Basketball’s Top 30 NBA Players: James Harden

USA's NBA basketball player James Harden poses after a press conference on August 20, 2016 in Paris. / AFP / BERTRAND GUAY (Photo credit should read BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images)

Although ranking the top 30 NBA players in today’s game is an incredibly difficult task, The Last Word on Pro Basketball staff has taken it on. Coming in at number 6 in the countdown is the Houston Rockets guard James Harden.

Top 30 NBA Players

Number 6 – James Harden

James Harden was drafted third in the 2009 NBA Draft. In the 2009-10 NBA season, Harden shot efficiently at the three-point line with a 37.5 shooting percentage. This is the fourth highest three-point shooting percentage in NBA history for a player under the age of 21. That season included having seven straight 3-point field goals over two games, which is the most consecutive threes since Rockets guard Michael Dickerson did it in 1999.

Furthermore, against the Phoenix Suns in April 2012, Harden had an amazing performance scoring 40 points. This was the most points scored by a bench player since Rodrigue Beaubois did it in March 2010.

Harden was part of the young and talented Thunder team that had Serge Ibaka, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook. Unfortunately, for Harden and the Thunder, his team would lose in five games to the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals. This is the only NBA Finals appearance that Harden has made in his professional career.

However, Harden would be part of a blockbuster deal 2012 NBA offseason. According to ESPN, Harden felt he was given too little time to confirm his contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder. And according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, Harden was offered a four-year contract extension worth between $52 to $55 million. He was then later traded from the Thunder to the Rockets.

Harden would make his name known in Houston. He made several NBA All-Star appearances. This is in sharp contrast to his time with the Thunder, where he was a bench player behind Westbrook and Durant. Harden would lead the Rockets to two Western Conference Finals appearances, where they lost to the Golden State Warriors. This included being only one game away from going to the 2017 NBA Finals.

Strengths

Harden is one of the most dynamic scorers and offensive players the NBA has ever seen. He has averaged at least 25 points per game since the 2012-13 NBA season. He can also pass and rebound the ball. For example, in the 2019-20 NBA season, he averaged 34.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game.

His free throw shooting percentage is 86.1 percent this season and he has a three-point shooting percentage of 35.2 percent this year. Lastly, he has a relatively good field goal percentage of 43.5 percent. He can also steal and block the basketball on the defensive end. In the 2019-20 NBA season, he is averaging 1.7 steals and a career-high 0.9 blocks per game.

Furthermore, at least one Rocket player talks about how good of a leader Harden is. Ben McLemore, the reserve guard of the Rockets explains, according to Ben DuBose of Rockets Wire.

“Succeeding in this league takes a lot more than talent and a good work ethic. It takes leadership. Someone to step up and selflessly devote time and energy in your progression. As good as James is on the court, he’s just as good at inspiring and bettering those around him. Forever grateful for my brother looking out for me and helping me achieve what I know I can. Foot on the gas, no stopping now… Salute, brother!” said McLemore.

Weaknesses

Like many players in the NBA, Harden has a few weaknesses. The weakest part of Harden’s game is his defense. According to Colin Ward-Henninger of CBS Sports, he ranks second in the NBA allowing 0.727 points per possession as a primary defender. However, sometimes he does not close out three-point shooters.

Furthermore, Ward-Henninger’s article also stated Harden is normally defending the worst offensive player of the other team. Even though he greatly improved his defense, it is still a weakness compared to other elite players in the NBA.

Former Rockets head coach Jeff Bzdelik is the architect of the Rockets’ switch-heavy defense. Even with Bzdelik moving on, the principles still apply with the Harden. Harden is not a two-way player like other players higher on this list.

The last weakness of Harden has been not being able to lead his Rockets to an NBA championship. This was clearly shown in the 2017 Western Conference Finals against the Warriors. The Rockets were winning that series 3-2. However, Chris Paul got injured at the end of game 5. As a result, the Rockets did not reach the NBA Finals. Harden did have 32 points in game 7 but was only 2/13 from the three-point line.

According to John Mitchell Ikanje, Harden’s playoff stats were lower than Harden’s season stats five out of seven times. However, he still can perform at a high-level and ranks ninth among active players with 22.9 points per game. Even still, there are critics who believe Harden cannot step up in big situations. And with some players on this list already winning NBA Championships, it was hard for Harden to be ranked any higher.

James Harden Career Accolades

Harden has numerous accolades since entering the league in 2009. His first two accolades came with the Thunder. He was named part of the NBA All-Rookie Second Team in 2010. He was then also awarded the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award with the Thunder.

Then with the Rockets, he would make an immediate impact. He was part of the All-NBA Third Team in 2013. Harden made his first NBA All-Star Game in 2013, the first of eight consecutive All-Star appearances. He was part of five All-NBA First Teams from 2014-19 and was the assist leader in 2017. Lastly, he was the NBA scoring champion two times in his career (2018 and 2019) and was the NBA Most Valuable Player in 2018.

James Harden is also on his way to becoming a scoring champion in the 2019-20 NBA season. According to Anthony Duckett of FanSided, this would make Harden just the ninth player in NBA history to accomplish that feat.

He also has a 99.90 percent chance to make the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame according to basketball reference. He is tied with current Rockets teammate Westbrook. Harden also has the highest chance to make the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame from the 2009 NBA draft class.

Last Word on Pro Basketball Top 30 NBA Players Ballots

We believe in full transparency in the top 30 NBA player rankings so we are going to disclose the ballots of our player rankings and where each contributor had each player ranked.

Tyler Marling – Site Manager – 6th
Chase Gage – Managing Editor – 6th
David Knight – Marketing Manager – 7th
Zach Kircher – Associate Editor – 7th
Matthew Waldman – Associate Editor – 7th
David Ward – Associate Editor – 8th
Avinash Chauhan – Contributor – 5th
Adam Zigner – Contributor – 6th
Albert Dadson – Contributor – 4th
Dylan Guest – Contributor – 4th
Raheem Bashir – Contributor – 6th
Nathan Levine – Contributor – 6th
Bill Huan – Contributor – 6th

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