by Maurice Bobb / @ReeseReport

We fudged up.

There are efficiency metrics. There are statistical analytics. There are shooting percentages. There are field-goal percentages and advanced stats. There are copious amounts of data and other mindnumbing minutiae that ultimately help narrow the field and pinpoint who we, the SLAMonline Brain Trust, should or shouldn’t champion as one of the NBA’s elite for the upcoming season.

But even with all of that, even with all of our expertise, hours of DVR’d games on NBA League Pass and our collective appreciation of what it takes to be a star player in the L, sometimes, we just flat out get it wrong.

The fact that James Harden didn’t make this list last year is on us. Our bad. You may now guffaw and deride as you please. Enjoy it. Revel in it. We deserve it.

But you can’t blame us, can you? After all, more often than not, star players don’t hail from a team’s second unit. Top 50 players aren’t considered role players. Well, most of the time, that’s true—99 out of 100. But every now and then, there’s that one who comes along and does it.

John Havlicek did it. So did Kevin McHale. Vinnie Johson. Manu Ginobili does it with impunity.

So yeah, we botched it last year. We screwed the pooch. We dropped the ball.

But a lot can change in 365 days. Since being snubed, Harden went out and won the Sixth Man of the Year award, helped his team make the NBA Finals and topped it off by winning a Gold medal as a member of the United States Olympic Basketball Team.

This year, we know better. This year, we can see the writing on the wall.

We don’t just “Fear the Beard,” we “Revere the Beard.” We love the audacious nature of it, the way it pays homage to Mr. T and Rick Ross at once. No individual shtick struck more of a chord with NBA fans than the “Fear the Beard” movement, and with good reason. Everybody loves the beard; they marvel at the beard, they want their own beard, yada, yada, yada, everything with the beard. We get it. But there’s more to this Euro-Step maestro than his signature facial hair. Much more.

How that can be quantified by way of justification for a new max contract is relative, not only from a value standpoint but from a salary cap viewpoint, as it pertains to the Oklahoma City Thunder’s bottom line, and that’s somewhat besides the point for this discussion. But this can’t be disputed: If OKC has any hopes of usurping the Miami Heat as the best team in NBA, they need this silky smooth southpaw on the roster. They need his crafty forays into the lane. They need his off-the-charts instincts with the rock. They need his deadly mid-range game. They need that jumper that can be oh so wet from deep. They need those thunderous tomahawk dunks. They need the efficiency with which he initiates the offense. They need that steely competitive swag that comes through in the clutch during the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. If they want to make it back to the NBA Finals and win this go ‘round, they’ll need Harden’s 16.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg and 3.7 dimes a contest and all the intangibles that go unmarked in the stat sheet.

Here’s the point: James Harden just makes things better. He makes OKC better. He’s the icing on the cake. If you’re one of millions of comic book fanboys, he’s the Robin to Superman and Batman. He’s the difference maker. And as good as Harden was during his third year in the League—and whoa, was he good—he’s only going to get better.

This year, look for the man with the perfect porno name (James Harden? Tell me you didn’t think of numerous connections with that name and his ability to “penetrate”) to continue to drain three balls, mid-range Js and free throws, while executing pick-and-rolls and interior and perimeter passing better than Bob Cousy.

James Harden, the top-20 player. We got it right this time, didn’t we?


Where should James Harden rank in the SLAMonline Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Greg MonroePistonsC8
49Tyreke EvansKingsPG14
48Brandon JenningsBucksPG13
47Stephen CurryWarriorsPG12
46Ricky RubioTWolvesPG11
45Al JeffersonJazzPF14
44Anthony DavisHornetsPF13
43Serge IbakaThunderPF12
42Al HorfordHawksC7
41Ty LawsonNuggetsPG10
40Danny GrangerPacersSF6
39Tim DuncanSpursPF11
38John WallWizardsPG9
37Monta EllisBucksSG8
36Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF10
35Roy HibbertPacersC6
34Tyson ChandlerKnicksC5
33Eric GordonHornetsSG7
32Kevin GarnettCelticsPF9
31Manu GinobiliSpursSG6
30Amar’e StoudemireKnicksPF8
29Marc GasolGrizzliesC4
28DeMarcus CousinsKingsC3
27Paul PierceCelticsSF5
26Andre IguodalaNuggetsSG5
25Rudy GayGrizzliesSF4
24Josh SmithHawksPF7
23Derrick RoseBullsPG8
22Joe JohnsonNetsSG4
21Steve NashLakersPG7
20James HardenThunderSG3

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.