By James Harden’s very own admission, last season “wasn’t great at all.”

Harden, coming off a runner-up MVP campaign, infamously entered camp out of shape after an offseason highlighted by a brief relationship with Khloe Kardashian.

Houston immediately fell short of lofty high expectations, and Kevin McHale took the fall for a 4-7 start to the season. The Rockets still managed to squeak into the Playoffs, where they lost in five games to the Warriors.

Through all the struggles, Harden still got his. The Beard’s numbers alone—29.0 ppg, 7.5 apg and 6.1 rpg and 25.3 PER—were indicative of what the 27-year-old is capable of bringing to the table.

He’s an offense unto himself, able to get to the line at will, knocking down shots from mid-range and three, while playing point guard for his team.

Harden personally accounted for a whooping 13.3 win shares—or nearly a third of Houston’s wins last season.

Given the disaster that was the Rockets’ 2015-16 season, it’s fair to say that a James Harden-led team will be, at least, a .500 ball club.

And still…

Critics point to Harden’s still-atrocious defense, propensity to pout during adversity, inability to make his teammates better, and record-setting sums of turnovers as reasons to place him a tier below the game’s upper echelon.

There have been questions about his work ethic, focus and will to win.

Part of this is due to the Rockets being one of the most disappointing stories of the 2015-16 campaign. But, for a player who dominates the ball like Harden, it’s impossible not to project a large percentage of the blame on him.

For presumably these reasons, Harden wasn’t selected to an All-NBA team last year—something that hasn’t happened since he was traded to H-Town.

By all accounts, Harden has been using last season as fuel to become a better player and leader in 2016-17.

He’ll have a formidable roster with the additions of Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon along with vets Nene and Pablo Prigioni.

Harden says he’s in great shape, loves Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has been treating the preseason like the regular season. The Rockets are poised to jump out of the gate with ferocity.

And James Harden may finally prove himself to be the leader, winner and generally unstoppable talent that we all know he’s capable of becoming.


2009: –
2010: –
2011: –
2012: 20
2013: 5
2014: 9
2015: 6

2016: 7

SLAM Top 50 Players 2016
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Ben Simmons 76ers SF 9
49 D’Angelo Russell Lakers PG 12
48 Derrick Favors Jazz PF 12
47 Devin Booker Suns SG 8
46 Chris Bosh Heat PF 11
45 Bradley Beal Wizards SG 7
44 Eric Bledsoe Suns PG 11
43 Serge Ibaka Magic PF 10
42 CJ McCollum Blazers SG 6
41 Pau Gasol Spurs PF 9
40 Rudy Gobert Jazz C 9
39 Kevin Love Cavs PF 8
38 Dirk Nowitzki Mavs PF 7
37 Kristaps Porzingis Knicks PF 6
36 Kemba Walker Hornets PG 10
35 Dwight Howard Hawks C 8
34 Hassan Whiteside Heat C 7
33 Gordon Hayward Jazz SF 8
32 Mike Conley Grizzlies PG 9
31 Andrew Wiggins T-Wolves SF 7
30 Dwyane Wade Bulls SG 5
29 Paul Millsap Hawks PF 5
28 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 6
27 Al Horford Celtics C 5
26 Giannis Antetokounmpo Bucks SF 6
25 Isaiah Thomas Celtics PG 8
24 DeMar DeRozan Raptors SG 4
23 DeAndre Jordan Clippers C 4
22 Andre Drummond Pistons C 3
21 Kyle Lowry Raptors PG 7
20 Karl-Anthony Towns T-Wolves C 2
19 Jimmy Butler Bulls SG 3
18 LaMarcus Aldridge Spurs PF 4
17 John Wall Wizards PG 6
16 Draymond Green Warriors PF 3
15 Carmelo Anthony Knicks SF 5
14 Blake Griffin Clippers PF 2
13 Klay Thompson Warriors SG 2
12 Kyrie Irving Cavs PG 5
11 Chris Paul Clippers PG 4
10 Damian Lillard Blazers PG 3
9 DeMarcus Cousins Kings C 1
8 Paul George Pacers SF 4
7 James Harden Rockets SG 1
6 Anthony Davis Pelicans PF 1
5 Kawhi Leonard Spurs SF 3
4 Kevin Durant Warriors SF 2
3 Russell Westbrook Thunder PG 2

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2016-17—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.

Follow the entire SLAM Top 50 countdown.