SLAM Top 50: James Harden, No. 6

Let’s be real. His numbers last season were unreal.

Regardless of how you feel about his defense, it was one of the best single season performances the League has ever seen on the offensive end.

And if it weren’t for his former teammate Russell Westbrook having an even more otherworldly season, claiming the MVP award seemed very probable.

It was a season filled with all types of career highs, despite a coaching change as well as a position change.

Mike D’Antoni took over the helm for the Houston Rockets last year and one of his first executive decisions was to make James Harden the new point guard of the franchise.

And the rest is history. The numbers speak for themselves.

Harden went on to average 29.1 points per game—a career-high and only second in the League to Westbrook’s 31.6—and 11.2 assists per game—also a career-high and a League-best for 2016-17. He also finished No. 1 in both free throws attempted and made for the third consecutive season.

The 6-5 guard joined Oscar Robertson as the only players to average at least 29.0 points, 11.0 assists and 8.0 rebounds (he averaged 8.1 boards) in a single season. The Big O reached this feat three times throughout his career.

Additionally, he became the first NBA player to ever record at least 2,000 points, 900 assists and 600 rebounds in a single season.

Coming into last season, Harden had accumulated nine triple-doubles throughout his career. But then he posted 22 triple-doubles in 2016-17 alone, which is the sixth-most ever recorded in a single season. His 53-point, 17-assist, and 16-rebound performance on New Year’s Eve against the New York Knicks made him the first player in NBA history to ever record at least 50 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists in a single game.

After leading the Rockets to the fourth-most regular season wins (55) in franchise history, Harden became the only player to be unanimously voted (all 100 ballots) into the ’16-17 First-Team All NBA selection.

And then June 28th happened. In a blockbuster trade that sent shockwaves throughout the League, the Clippers sent nine-time NBA all-star Chris Paul to the Rockets in exchange for Patrick Beverly, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Kyle Wiltjer, a protected first-round pick and $661,000.

Adding a superstar point guard to a backcourt that already featured the NBA’s reigning assist leader immediately made Houston one of the most intriguing line-ups in the Association.

Yet, the billion-dollar question remains: Can Chris Paul and James Harden coexist in the backcourt? And how will his numbers be affected by the move?

The two ranked among the NBA’s top four players in assist rate last season (Harden 50.7% and Paul 46.8%). On paper the opportunities seem bountiful. But executing it and meshing on the hardwood is another conversation.

The season-ending loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals this past spring was everything but representative of Harden’s season. He was held to just 10 points on 2-for-11 shooting to go along with six turnovers before fouling out. The LA native just seemed to have ran out of gas after putting the team on his back throughout the season. And this is where adding a player of Paul’s caliber can make a difference by now possessing another all-star guard to carry the load on nights when things just aren’t clicking for the other.

Harden broke the all-time single-season record for turnovers last season with 464. The previous all-time record was set by Harden himself just a year prior when he had 374 of them. With Paul now also running point, the turnover totals should decrease this season.

D’Antoni has said Harden and CP3 will both share playmaking responsibilities for the squad this year, to which Harden has described as very promising thus far.

After a practice session a couple of weeks ago, he told the Houston Chronicle of sharing the floor with CP3: “I’ve had more catch-and-shoot opportunities, he has as well, in these four days of training camp than we’ve had in a few years,” Harden said. “It hasn’t been tough because we’re willing to share the ball … and make plays for our teammates and ourselves. I’m going to have that same mentality to score and create, but I don’t have to do it as much because we have another guy that can do it on a high level.”

He was asked to make an adjustment in the backcourt last season and went on to have a historic year. Now he’s being asked to do so again. But this time he’s being asked to mesh with one of the best pure point guards in the NBA.

When it comes to making adjustments, we think Harden has earned the benefit of the doubt that it’s something he can do rather quickly.

Previous Rankings:
2016: No. 7
2015: No. 6
2014: No. 9
2013: No. 5

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2017-18—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.

No. 50 – Dion Waiters
No. 49 – Ben Simmons 
No. 48 – Brook Lopez
No. 47 — Harrison Barnes
No. 46 — Jrue Holiday
No. 45 — Lonzo Ball
No. 44 — Myles Turner
No. 43 — Goran Dragic
No. 42 — Andre Drummond
No. 41 — Al Horford
No. 40 — LaMarcus Aldridge
No. 39 — Kevin Love
No. 38 — Paul Millsap
No. 37 — Hassan Whiteside
No. 36 — Andrew Wiggins
No. 35 — Marc Gasol
No. 34 – DeAndre Jordan
No. 33 — Bradley Beal
No. 32 — Kemba Walker
No. 31 — CJ McCollum
No. 30 — Devin Booker
No. 29 — Nikola Jokic
No. 28 — Joel Embiid
No. 27 — Mike Conley 
No. 26 — Kyle Lowry
No. 25 — Rudy Gobert

No. 24 — Gordon Hayward
No. 23 — Kristaps Porzingis
No. 22 — Carmelo Anthony
No. 21 — DeMar DeRozan
No. 20 — Blake Griffin
No. 19 — Draymond Green
No. 18 — Chris Paul
No. 17 — Klay Thompson
No. 16 — Jimmy Butler
No. 15 — Isaiah Thomas
No. 14 — Karl-Anthony Towns
No. 13 — Damian Lillard
No. 12 — DeMarcus Cousins
No. 11 — Kyrie Irving
No. 10 — John Wall
No. 9 — Paul George

No. 8 — Anthony Davis
No. 7 — Giannis Antetokounmpo