Remember when the world called James Harden selfish? That he was arrogant and toxic for coming after two time MVP Giannis for saying all he was is big and had "no skill at all" because all he did was run and dunk? Or how about when the narrative was that all he did was dribble a million times and then draw contact? Empty stats with no playoff pedigree. Not the kind of guy you want to carry or lead your franchise. So it wasn’t surprising when he asked to join the Nets, a super team to have other stars to share the load with.
But in the end, James Harden’s trade to the Nets hasn’t tarnished his legacy, it’s actually done the opposite. This season shows how good Harden actually is, not only is he the most important player to the Nets organization’s title hopes, but you can make the case he’s the most important player to his team than any other player in the league.
Let’s dig into the stats (as of last Wednesday) as to why:
This chart shows which players currently playing out of their minds actually can single-handedly carry their team to a W when they go off for 30 or more. The Bucks and Nuggets statistically are WORSE when Giannis and Jokic score over 30. That RIGHT THERE is surprising. But the most surprising piece of data is how good the Nets are when Harden scores 30 or more. They just don’t lose. Like ever. 10-0 when he scores 30 or more. He takes one of the four best teams in the NBA and makes them 1/3rd better when he has to carry the load. Incredible.
Statistics can sometimes lie but your eyes can’t. Remember that game the Nets played in Phoenix against the Suns who were surging and fully healthy? If not, let me refresh your memory. No Ky, no KD. Just Tyler Johnson, Bruce Brown, Deandre Jordan, and Joe Harris in the starting lineup facing one of the hottest teams in basketball. Nets were 12.5 point underdogs. Harden went 14/22 and scored the last 9 points in the final 90 seconds to beat the Suns by 4. He also had a similar game against the Sixers as well where he just carried a decimated Brooklyn team to a win they had no business getting.
Since March 24, Harden has missed a dozen games. The Nets? 6-6 when he doesn’t play. A .500 team.
And if you think that when it’s just Kyrie Irving, the same result happens… you’re wrong. In fact the Nets are 4-3 with just Ky.
Everyone thought this move to the Nets would show how James Harden was not that skilled; that Kyrie was just as good at leading a team as him. That’s just not true. The truth is NO ONE is as good at James Harden leading a bad roster to victories all by himself.
Hoopshype recently put out an article that showed who the best isolation players in the league are. To the shock of no one, Harden was at the top of that list. The thing that was surprising that the 2nd best player at iso isn’t even CLOSE to him. It’s possible that there is no one as good in history at isolation ball than James Harden. A walking bucket.
And when he’s not in the lineup? Trouble.
We talk about this and more on the THIS LEAGUE podcast and really dig into why this might be. Go download on Spotify or Apple and if you prefer to watch on video, here is our Youtube link as well.