Russel Westbrook, Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving… These are players that are constantly in peoples’ minds when you say “Who are you keen to watch play this year” but throughout this 3 part series I’ll be talking about a few different players who are going to be ones to watch this year. Due to injuries, drop offs in form or being on the cusp of a breakout season these players aren’t yet on everyone’s radars but defiantly should be. From potential MVP, to 6th man of the year and Most Improved Player candidates I’ll be breaking down why these players are ones to watch this season and how they are likely to announce themselves to the rest of the league and us NBA fans.
There is no question that Stephen Curry absolutely deserved to win last year’s MVP award after one of the singular greatest regular seasons in NBA history. However, should he be a two time league’s Most Valuable Player?
Rewind two seasons and James Harden was well and truly in the discussion for MVP. Steph wasn’t playing at the same inhuman like level during the 2014-2015 seasons and the discussion was a lot more open as to who deserved the award. The two guards’ season numbers were similar, Harden averaged 27.4 ppg 7.0 apg 5.7 rpg 1.9 stpg on 44.0 fg% and 37.5 3P% were as Steph averaged 23.8 ppg 7.7 apg 4.3 rpg 2.0 stpg on 48.7 fg% and 44.3 3P% During that season the Golden State Warriors had the best record in the league (what else is new?) with 67 wins and 15 losses where as James Harden led the Rockets to a 56 win 26 losses season and this was ultimately the deciding factor as to who won the honour of being deemed the best player in the league that year.
However when it’s not a unanimous decision like 2015-2016 was when deciding how ‘valuable’ a player is to his team I think taking into consideration where that team would have placed without them is necessary.
Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala’s ability to run plays, Klay Thompson’s looming barrage of 3 point daggers and as well as a high bench unit meant Steph was able to sit out multiple 4th quarters because of GSW all round dominance and flawless team play.
This defiantly cannot be said for the Rockets, they finished second in the Western Conference behind GSW and if they were without James Harden for a chunk of the season they would have been lucky to scrape though to the playoffs at all. Harden came up big in multiple 4th quarters with game winning shots and clutch free throws time and time again, the Phoenix Suns knows this all too well. Harden scored at will and assisted as necessary, he played a larger role in his team’s victories and ultimately was more ‘valuable’ to his team which explains why he was voted the Players MVP by his peers throughout the league as opposed to being awarded the honour by the media as Steph did.
Now of course, at this point I’m purely just talking hypothetically but after James Harden openly said at the beginning of last season he believed he was the deserving MVP Houston had a drop off in form finishing with a .500 record. (Harden still averaged 29 points per game) There was more discussion about locker room dramas than actual basketball and the Rockets and Harden faded into the back of people’s minds.
So after a few good free agency signings in Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, some interesting draft picks, a core team with room to develop and a new head coach the Houston Rockets and James Harden are going to be back with a vengeance and are poised for a renaissance.
There new coach is going to play a huge part in making this possible, they have gone with Mike D’antoni who is the man responsible for the Steve Nash Phoenix Suns teams and their famed ‘7 seconds or less’ offence. He is a coach that designs a high pace offence around a certain player where the aim is to score quickly and to score a lot.
James Harden is specifically adept at this as he is an offence wizard and he even has the beard to go with this title. It was announced during the offseason that Harden will be playing primarily as a point guard as opposed to a two guard this season. This means he will be able to daze as many defenders with his crossovers and draw as many fouls as he wants when going into the lane or putting up 3 pointers. Also with the point guard role comes assists, Harden for his career has averaged 4.9 assists per game however in recent seasons he has managed to average over 7 assists per game due to playing more as a primary ball handler.
Now he will be running plays and aiming to assist more and with Hardens excellent Basketball IQ this number has the potential to rise further.
Now defence may be a bit of an issue for this side however during pre-season the Rockets have a clocked a record of 4 wins and 1 loss and they have scored an average of 125 points in each of these outings which just give you an idea of the way this high octane offence will be working during the season. They’ll be aiming to stop the bleeding on the defensive end by playing defence through offence purely outscoring their opponent by as much as possible each match.
So in this new role Harden will have a lot of time to showcase his talents and stock up huge per game averages in all categories. This will bode well for him when it comes to deciding potential MVP candidates.
After finishing with a .500 record last season the only way is up for the Rockets at this point. D’antoni has a very established career in the NBA as a coach and has the potential to create a culture in Houston that will breed success.
With Kevin Durant now in the Bay Area and the natural course of action with MVP voters catching a case of “voters fatigue” it seems unlikely that Steph will manage to win a 3rd straight MVP award. So if D’antoni can even slightly replicate the magic of his Suns teams at the Houston rockets they will be a force to be reckoned with and James Harden will be at the centre of it all and in with a chance of landing himself his first MVP award, and even if that is not the case he will be putting on a show all year that will be a thrill for us NBA fans to follow throughout.