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Wednesday, October 17th, 2012 at 12:00 pm  |  83 responses

Top 50: James Harden, no. 20

The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players for ’12-13.

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
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Greg Monroe Pistons C 8
49 Tyreke Evans Kings PG 14
48 Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 13
47 Stephen Curry Warriors PG 12
46 Ricky Rubio TWolves PG 11
45 Al Jefferson Jazz PF 14
44 Anthony Davis Hornets PF 13
43 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 12
42 Al Horford Hawks C 7
41 Ty Lawson Nuggets PG 10
40 Danny Granger Pacers SF 6
39 Tim Duncan Spurs PF 11
38 John Wall Wizards PG 9
37 Monta Ellis Bucks SG 8
36 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 10
35 Roy Hibbert Pacers C 6
34 Tyson Chandler Knicks C 5
33 Eric Gordon Hornets SG 7
32 Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 9
31 Manu Ginobili Spurs SG 6
30 Amar’e Stoudemire Knicks PF 8
29 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 4
28 DeMarcus Cousins Kings C 3
27 Paul Pierce Celtics SF 5
26 Andre Iguodala Nuggets SG 5
25 Rudy Gay Grizzlies SF 4
24 Josh Smith Hawks PF 7
23 Derrick Rose Bulls PG 8
22 Joe Johnson Nets SG 4
21 Steve Nash Lakers PG 7
20 James Harden Thunder SG 3

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.

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  • omphalos

    I don’t like this ranking, especially after his poor performance in the Finals, dude’s confidence is shook, he started missing wide open shots and then started passing them up, I find it really difficult to believe he’ll be a top-20 player in the NBA next season.

  • Troy

    James Harden is a baller. That’s it. Yes he had a bad Finals, big deal. LeBron had a bad finals two years ago, he recovered nicely, no? Granted, Harden is no LBJ but still.

  • LeroyShonuff

    One good year and he’s top 20??? Take him off the Thunder and he’s Tyreke Evans, Steph Curry but worse. Good player but he dramatically benefits from the team he’s on. Curry, Jennings, Evans, Gordon, Ellis, Lawson and Wall are better. Can’t really slam slam on this because his team success propels him. But he is dramatically overrated.

  • i_ball

    If it wasn’t for him OKC wouldn’t have beaten the Spurs. If he is the number one guy I think he can score in the high twenties + 5 assists and 5 rebounds. That is top 20

  • LeroyShonuff

    And it is still a crime that Rose is ranked 23. Bill Simmons has a great logic for ranking players. If you was chicago would you trade Rose for Harden??? Absolutely not

  • The Big Balla

    I would LOVE for the lakers to find a way to get this guy!!

  • danpowers

    could anybody please pass this article on to jr smith?

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Great work mr Bobb

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    uhm, we can take performances in a short finals series and judge players based on them if we want………or we could look at LeBron and not do that.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    the ranking is based on THIS season. Not who you would want if you were a GM.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    again, the ranking is based on this season, one in which he will play on the Thunder. Where he will be more productive then all of those guys.

  • spit hot fiyah

    If u dont understand the criteria for the rankings then dont bother commenting

  • Otis

    There is no way in the wide western world that Brandon Jennings is better than James Harden. Not in a bazillion years. Nor pretty much anyone else you mentioned. But dude, Brandon Jennings? Seriously?

  • Otis

    Maybe Steph Curry and maaaaaaaaaaaybe Eric Gordon if he can stay healthy. Maybe.

  • Da-Meat-Hook

    If it were solely for the 2012-2013 season, which is what this “Top 50″ is based on, I would take John Wall and Ty Lawson over Rose. The fact of the matter is that Nate Robinson will be Chicago’s starting point guard for the coming months, and possibly for the entire season.

  • leroyshonuff

    I’m completely aware of the ranking system. The system is flawed beyond measure. When you have a statement that says “definitive ranking system” then it must be logical. This system is not. Even by the standards of this system, Harden should not be ranked this high. Common basketball logic has to come into play. Your really telling me Harden is better right now than Zach, Rudy or Marc? Really

  • 23

    Geeze not everything is about the kicks man.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Uhm, in terms of productivity, efficiency….yes. Clearly.
    .
    http://www.basketball-reference.com/play-index/pcm_finder.cgi?request=1&sum=0&p1=hardeja01&y1=2012&p2=gayru01&y2=2012&p3=randoza01&y3=2011&p4=gasolma01&y4=2012

    .
    I did use Zach Randolph’s 2010-11 stats, as those are more accurate, and given those, Randolph is a better player. But that totally depends on your opinion of whether or not he can get back to that, which i am betting against.

  • leroyshonuff

    Ummmm, Jennings was the best player on a playoff team as a rookie. Defenses gameplan for him nightly and let’s not forget he is only 22 which makes him the same age I believe as Harden. He had the Bucks extremely close to the playoffs last year. So your telling me that if you replace Harden with Wall the Wizards are better? Or Ellis on them Warriors teams? Same with Curry? Or Lawson, Gordon, Evans and Rose? Please don’t let media hype fool you. The kid had one very good year. He has also never faced the pressure of being a go-to guy night in and night out like these guys. Harden is a well liked OJ Mayo

  • Shifty

    Still don’t think Harden will have the 20th best season this year…….yeah he’s pretty solid as a 6th man, bombed in the finals but still….20? I have him in the 30′s. people can’t dislike this comment and people can say do u even watch the games….but my opinion. Dude is not a top 20 player. Ginobli is better then him.

  • Shifty

    People can dislike this comment* predictive phone

  • Conor

    The most overrated guard in the League.

  • Maurice Bobb

    Thanks guys, we love the feedback and comments

  • danpowers

    1.) whats the use of comparing a shooting guard to point guards?

    2.) you could argue that he benefits from his team and this is why he is so efficient, just doesnt sound very probable when you consider his skills.

    3.) you could also argue that he would be a starter for any team that doesnt name their shooting guard bryant or wade which means he just steps back for the sake of his team and could easily put up even better numbers for any squad that would give him a starting job.

  • Dutch Rich

    In descending order per position.
    Shooting guards: HardenWadeWestbrookKobe
    Small Forwards:PierceMelo
    DurantLebron
    Power Forwards:GriffinGasol/BoshLove
    Centers:BynumDwight
    I expect Pierce to be 19

  • Maurice Bobb

    Thanks nbk!

  • Junior Taylor

    Harden by his lonesome is better than LA’s entire second unit. That alone should give OKC a huge advantage if they meet up in the postseason. Yeah…he had a bad finals but I give him a slight pass given that it was his first time playing on such a big stage but I do remember him destroying the Lakers and Spurs on the way to the Finals though. Now if he can replicate such success, OKC comes out of the west.

  • leroyshonuff

    He should be more efficient. He get’s better looks when he is on court with Westbrook and Durant vs a Drew Gooden or Jason Thompson. No I don’t think Zach will return to them numbers but I do believe people is over-hyping Harden.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    by that logic he should also be producing less. and he should lose efficiency when he is playing without those guys…..except, neither is true. In fact, offensively, last season, Harden was better when on the court without BOTH, Durant and Westbrook .(http://www.82games.com/1112/11OKC7.HTM)
    .
    Now as you can see, the second most used lineup with Harden on the court came without Durant and Westbrook, as it was less productive in general, Harden as an individual did not suffer at all playing without his 2 stars.

  • LakeShow

    He was #27…

  • LakeShow

    That’s a silly statement. James Harden does not provide everything that the combination of Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Hill, Devin Ebanks do…

  • Junior Taylor

    So just what exactly does Jodie Meeks provide expect for sporadic shooting? Jamison, Jamison scores inefficiently and does nothing else at this point in his career and I am not even going to waste my time on Hill and Ebanks.

  • Dutch Rich

    You’re correct, my apologies. So does this mean that Noah is cracking the top 20??? If so, all hell is gonna break loose on here!

  • RG190

    This dude needs to teach OKC a lesson for not paying him right away. As to how, I’ll leave that to the schemers out there…

  • LeroyShonuff

    The SG ranks in the nba is not up to par historically. You have to compare him to pg when he is ranked ahead of them. His role on the thunder, especially in crunch time is as a pg. Now is he a top 20 most important player, sure he is. But importance does not mean best. Jrue Holiday is extremely important, but that doesn’t mean he is better than say a Pau Gasol. And I say importance based off of if he is injured how his team will play without him.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    if people flip out about Noah being top 20 i will be arguing with everyone, all day. BUT, He won’t be regardless, you forgot Point Guards – Chris Paul – Deron Williams – Tony Parker Plus Power Forwards, Lamarcus Aldridge and you forgot Dirk.

  • Swish

    Enjoyed the write-up, but Manu is still better and will have a more productive season…

  • LakeShow

    What’s sporadic about shooting better than Harden from 3? Career 37% compared to Hardens 35%…
    Jamison hasn’t rebounded less than 6 boards a game is his career. In addition to his 20PPG career average. He is streaky, but he has never been in as easy an offensive role as he has now. He should thrive off the bench for the Lakers.
    Jordan Hill is a good defensive player and he has a decent jump shot also. Ebanks is a very athletic wing that can provide some much need quickness to LA’s offense.
    Just admit you misspoke saying that Harden is better than LA’s entire bench. That’s just stupid. He’s better than any combo of 2 players, but it’s just stupid to act like if no one on OKC’s bench shows except Harden that they will still have a better bench than LA.

  • Dutch Rich

    I had mentioned the PG’s yesterday on Nash’s thread, and thought I’d leave them out here. Mistake. Dirk got lost in my cut and paste. Another mistake. I did however completely overlook Aldridge. But including him no leaves me with one too many. Noah does belong in the top 50. Unless they’re gonna have a combined #1 or something. Durant/LBJ?
    Recap top 20. In order by position
    PG: Rondo, Parker, Irving, D.Williams, Paul
    SG: Harden, Wade, Westbrook, Kobe
    SF: C.Anthony, Durant, James
    PF: Griffin, Gasol, Bosh, Nowitsky, Love
    C: Noah, Aldridge, Bynum, Howard.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    oh i see, my bad.
    .
    It’s easier for me to look at it in order, in ascending order of who should be on the list, based on whose gone and all that.
    .
    -1 LeBron
    -2 Durant
    -3 Howard
    -4 Paul
    -5 Wade
    -6 Bryant
    -7 Deron
    -8 Westbrook
    -9 Aldridge
    -10 Bosh
    -11 Dirk
    -12 Love
    -13 Pau
    -14 Bynum
    -15 Rondo
    -16 Griffin
    -17 Melo
    -18 Parker
    -19 Irving
    -
    So yeah, no Noah.

  • LeroyShonuff

    Yes he did not suffer but does that take into account who he is playing against? Yes he was productive in his role, but those stats does not reveal the caliber of talent he was playing against. It one thing to be productive when your playing in the middle of the 2nd quarter against career backups vs playing 35mins going against the best. Harden does not face that burden. If he ever leaves OKC, he will be exposed for that, if he stays he will be a hero. Think of it in football terms, Alvin Harper was extremely loved when he played for the cowboys, but when he signed that deal with the Bucs, he flamed.

  • ctk

    Harden is n a great situation yes …but i dont think many players can do his role either …so i got to give him his due

  • http://www.facebook.com/Bishop.SeanMagicJuan Sean MagicJuan

    Harden is more valuable than LA’s bench. When you go by the name LakeShow, you’re not looking for debate, you’re looking for a pep rally to cheer on Kobe.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    What does any of that matter? All that matters is that per minute, Harden was as good as any Shooting Guard in the league last season, and given what he provided the second best team in the league, it’s logical to say he is one of the top 20-30 players in the league, depending how you want to make your criteria
    .
    Again, the ranking is about what the players will do this season, on the team they are on. Not what they would do in your own fictional world where everyone is on an even playing field being judged solely based on their skill level and how they apply it against the same competition.
    .
    Sorry.

  • SirGrey

    stop it..

  • LakeShow

    lol

  • Datkid

    ehhhhh

  • Datkid

    zach randolph hasn’t fully recovered from injury, Marc Gasol is still developing and James Harden is better BY FAR than Rudy Gay. Memphis would trade for him in a heartbeat.

  • Datkid

    and they most likely won’t.

  • Datkid

    take him off the thunder and he’s tyreke evans? Have you ever seen James Harden play?

  • Datkid

    he was injured in the finals. look at what he did against dallas,LA, and the spurs instead.

  • Junior Taylor

    No actually it’s a smart way to think. LA’s bench is one of a few weakness for LA

  • Slick Ric

    WTH……..Way too high.

  • Datkid

    lmaoooo Rose and MAYBE Lawson are the only people on that list better than James Harden. Harden would put up BUCKETS as the main guy lol. you can’t seriously think Jennings and evans are actually better than harden, and they probably wouldn’t be even if they played the same position. and Gordon wasn’t even the main guy on the clippers. The reality is though that only Wade, Bryant, Johnson and (arguably) Ginnobli are better than Harden at the 2 guard. and Harden is RAPIDLY improving.

  • Datkid

    This ranking is just fine for Harden. If you think otherwise you haven’t been watching homie play.

  • spit hot fiyah

    again, you fail to understand the ranking system, it is a projection. it is not about who is better right now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/qcollingwood Interdico Scriptor

    F**kin A

  • http://www.facebook.com/qcollingwood Interdico Scriptor

    @Nbk Melo at 17 ???? seriously!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/qcollingwood Interdico Scriptor

    He’s right. I prefer Tyreke. WAY PREFER. ‘Reke is a bangin 2 that can easy play the 1

  • http://www.facebook.com/qcollingwood Interdico Scriptor

    Hahahaha true!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/qcollingwood Interdico Scriptor

    Hahahahaha. No WAY. Rudy Gay???/ No F**kin Way!! Rudy Gay’s pitbull Antoine is better than Harden. 20 is too high

  • Datkid

    well then you’re autistic. Tyreke does literally NOTHING better than James Harden.

  • Jo Pao

    People these days. Judge every player because of their Finals stats. James Harden will surpass many great players. If he wasn’t a six man, he could possibly be the go to guy in a crappy team. But he made a good decision to be that glue guy OKC needs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/qcollingwood Interdico Scriptor

    No you didn’t SLAM. Sorry but this is too high. Harden is definitely a top 50 but he should not even be considered in the same breath as Pierce, Gay or Ginobli. He is better than Joe Johnson so somewhere around there between JJ and Ginoblii, about 27-31 (Ginobli is too low). For some reason (the beard) a lot of people love Harden, and though I give him his dues I believe he could be better ( so do SLAM staff who project him to be top 20 ). Can he do it? I say not yet, not 2013. Maybe if OKC can stick together and learn from last year Harden can evolve and in doing so change the mind of the NBA power houses (Miami LAL) with pure play and teamwork…. I hope so, so does SLAM.

  • Dnton

    I will be convinced he is top 10 when he gets out of the first round again =P

  • Dnton

    OKC don’t make it to the finals without him. Don’t think Jrue has quite the same impact yes?

  • Datkid

    Rudy Gay is mediocre. and Rudy Gay doesn’t care that he’s mediocre. and the only thing he might one day be better at then Harden is defense. but he would have to try not to be mediocre. So no. Rudy Gay is not better than James Harden and no 20 is not too high.

  • Max

    Whut?

  • Omar

    I like him but he’s at least 10 spots too high.

  • http://www.facebook.com/qcollingwood Interdico Scriptor

    Spell it out??

  • http://www.facebook.com/qcollingwood Interdico Scriptor

    Tyreke first year is better than Harden now… fact

  • http://www.facebook.com/qcollingwood Interdico Scriptor

    Um.. excuse me.. mediocre. Did you just say Rudy Gay is mediocre? and he doesn’t care… right. So maybe next time prove it. Gay outscores/outhustles/rebounds better than Harden. Remember Gay was injured in 2012, he’s not now. THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK NEXT TIME

  • Drig

    When you consider that Pierce and Ginobli are gonna have restriced minutes and realize that Slam’s top 50 usually bumps up players with potential and knocks down guys who’re aged a few places, it doesn’t seem too farfetched. In the POs, what you’re said is absolutely true but in the regular season, Ginobli hasn’t been the most durable guy you can find. For me, change Iggy with Harden and you’ve got it more right.

  • Drig

    WB destroyed the Lakers along with Durant. Harden was inefficient the entire series. But Harden is definitely better than LA’s entire pre-season 2nd unit. Once Dwight returns and we cut a few players and our rotation ends up as Sacre-Hill-Ebanks/Jamison-CDR-Meeks/Blake, it’ll look much better.

  • Drig

    Doesn’t ANYONE think Iggy is a better two-way player than Harden, esp. if he’s considered as an SG like he is in this list? O.o

  • Max

    I don’t get the last part.

  • Dutch Rich

    I think the conception with Iggy is that for a few years now he was the n#1 option on his team and came away with similar overall stats as a guy like Harden who is a 3rd option on his. Not to take anything away from his superior defense off-course. My little list there only represented the remaining possible 20 players. And I tried to break it down by position which in today’s NBA seems to be a very elusive science btw. If I had to make a top 5 at each position Iggy would probably be the SG list, beating out Afflalo and OJ.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    i know, i probably should have put him at 19

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    no, Tyreke’s first year he had the ball all game every game. He wasn’t better than Harden. Stats don’t mean everything.

  • Drig

    But Iggy also took the best perimeter player on the other end of the floor and believed more in team ball creating chances rather than on guys making plays and setting others up. I have him as the 3rd best SG, if he is considered an SG, with EG/Manu and Harden rounding out the top 5 in the regular season/post-season resp.

  • Datkid

    @facebook-1143550013:disqus well Rudy Gay, despite being more athletic, bigger, and playing more minutes only scores 3 more points, grabs 2 more rebounds, and has 2 less assists than James Harden and even when he wasn’t injured he shot considerably less efficiently from EVERYWHERE. You are a jackass, and you can’t read.

  • Datkid

    Tyreke was the 1st option on a tanking, dysfunctional team. They gave him the ball and got out of the way. Tyreke shoots so much worse, and is so ridiculously inefficient that I don’t even know how you could make that statement.

  • Datkid

    @facebook-1143550013:disqus and even if you wanna talk about positional versatility, Harden plays all 3 guard spots better than Reke.

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