James Harden is earning high praise from his head coach in his first season as a true point guard. Mike D’Antoni compared the Houston Rockets star to one of his former players, Steve Nash, when describing his impact on the Rockets this year.
The Rockets head coach wasn’t shy about putting the point guard in elite territory when describing his first official season at the position.
“His ability to make plays and stuff is as good as anybody I’ve ever seen,” D’Antoni told USA TODAY Sports during a recent visit to his office inside the Toyota Center.
D’Antoni was asked if that meant as good or even better than Nash, a 2-time MVP who ran the coach’s “Seven Seconds Or Less” offense in Phoenix.
“Oh yeah,” he says with a nod about the Rockets star who averaged a league-leading 11.2 assists per game in the regular season, yet has seen that number dip to 8.6 in these playoffs. “Oh, he’s unbelievable. What he can do, what he knows, is ridiculous.”
Harden has given credit to his teammates for helping him transition into the role full-time, and those pieces at The Players’ Tribune have helped shed some light on just how that transition occured. Harden and D’Antoni watched plenty of film of how Steve Nash. From Harden’s piece on May 1:
It was some of the most fun I’ve had in a film room. I can still see Coach pointing at the TV, getting excited about something Nash had done in a game. He’d pause the film, and we’d talk about Nash’s ability to change pace, or how he was reading the defense, or how he always seemed to get guys the ball who hadn’t touched it in a few possessions. Coach talked about how Nash was a vocal leader — something I’ve tried to improve on more and more each year. And he kept telling me how much Nash evolved as a player each season.
One of the lessons Harden took from the session is not that D’Antoni wanted him to play like Nash, but understand how he made his teammates better by filling the role of a point guard in his offense. That’s clearly something Harden took to heart, and D’Antoni has taken notice.