Confidence and cockiness is a fine line. Sometimes one is misconstrued for the other, and often times many people have issues if athletes sound “too full of themselves.”
I have no problem with James Harden saying he thinks that he is the best all-around player in the NBA like he did yesterday at a promotional event. Phenomenal talents like him should have this mindset. While some might view this as being “cocky”, I do not have a problem with it because he is one of the best all-around players in the league. It does not mean he is the best right now, but he could be soon. Personally, I think LeBron James and Kevin Durant have him beat there.
My opinion of Harden has definitely changed over the last few years. During his first few seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he seemed to be pretty laid back and carried himself in a quiet, yet confident manner that seemed very respectable. I thought he was deserving of the contract he was asking for from the Thunder given how much they had invested into Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. When it was rumored that the Thunder were unwilling to throw in just $6 million more to keep him in town and their potential future dynasty intact, I understood why he probably wanted to skip town after his contract was up. After all, he was far and away the best sixth man in the NBA who was definitely deserving of a starting spot. He had made so many big plays and big shots for the Thunder in crucial stretches of key games.
When he was traded to the Houston Rockets right before the 2012-13 season started, I was pretty shocked. I thought he would become an All-Star caliber player right away, and he did just that when he averaged 25.9 PPG, 5.8 APG and 4.7 RPG for the year. Harden was pretty much the top offensive option on a team that seemed like it was a superstar or two away from really being something. When the Rockets signed Dwight Howard last offseason, I thought they might compete in a very wide open Western Conference. But they met defeat in the first round this year against the Portland Trail Blazers.
His comments about his teammates after the departure of Chandler Parsons this offseason that struck me the wrong way. He was quoted as saying, “The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete the team.” I do not know why he would say something like that. There is nothing wrong with embracing the limelight and wanting to be the star, but to basically not encourage your teammates to strive for stardom and accept just being a role player is not what you want to hear from someone who is supposed to be your leader.
In terms of Harden’s overall skill set, he still has a lot of work to do on the defensive end. There is a 12-minute video on YouTube of his poor defense from just this past season, where he is shown often falling asleep along the baseline in zone coverages and allowing his man to sneak behind him for an easy layup. He also gets burned when he tries to swipe for the ball once he allows his man to pass by him, which again also leads to an uncontested shot at the basket. The news that has come out during his time with Team USA this summer for the FIBA World Cup has been largely positive, notably that he does truly want to become a defensive stopper. This is great news for Team USA, as well as for the Rockets.
He is already an expert on offense. He has mastered the European step on the drive which continues to baffle defenses around the league and has also become a deadly shooter from all areas of the court. He already has the big contract and a really good team built around him. If Harden does morph into defensive stopper coming into this season for the Rockets, he will definitely be an MVP-candidate level talent. Now it is up to him to improve drastically in this part of his game, and if he does that he can certainly reach “Best All-Around Player” status in the league very soon.