When the Houston Rockets traded for James Harden just prior to the start of the 2012-2013 NBA season, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the guard was going to be good playing in a featured role for the first time in his career after being the sixth man with the Oklahoma City Thunder to start his career. However, I’m not sure people expected him to be as fantastic as he was.
In his first season as a Rocket, Harden put up 25.9 points, 5.8 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.8 steals in 38.3 minutes per game while shooting a respectable 43.8 percent from the floor and a solid 36.8 from long-distance. Armed with a versatile, lethal offensive game and a beard that could soon be named the newest National Forest, Harden certainly has proven he’s among the game’s elite.
As the league’s elite shooting guards get older and Harden sits at just 24 years old with his prime still ahead of him, he’s obviously going to be in discussion as the best two-guard in the league right now. According to the 30 general managers in the league, though, it’s not really a discussion at all.
In the most recent edition of the NBA.com’s NBA GM Survey, the GMs voted Harden as the best shooting guard in the league. The fact that Harden earned the honor really isn’t that surprising considering Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade’s age and injury concerns. However, the fact that Harden received an alarmingly high 56.7 percent of the vote while Kobe, who finished second in the voting, received just 20 percent is quite the surprise.
Personally, I believe that Harden is the best shooting guard in the NBA. Yes, he needs to improve as a defender and his game is not without flaws. However, based on what he’s already shown and his potential to keep improving, I think that elevates him to the top of that list. The issue that I have is that I don’t believe the margin between him and Kobe and the other guys that come in on that list is that large. Bryant more than likely won’t come back from his Achilles injury and be the same player that we’re used to, but even 80-90 percent of Kobe’s former self is one of the best two-guards in the league and is at least in the ballpark with Harden.
Perhaps GMs around the league know something about Harden that I don’t. Perhaps they have seen the future and it holds even more offense and better defense from Harden. Perhaps they are factoring in Dwight Howard and assume him coming to Houston aids Harden. Those are all possibilities. From where I’m sitting, though, Harden deserves to lead the vote, but not by the margin that he does in the GM Survey.