James Harden is seen as the frontrunner for the 2017-18 NBA MVP award and, on Tuesday night, he reminded the basketball world of why that assumption is being made. Harden led the Houston Rockets to a four-point win over a Portland Trail Blazers team that entered with 13 consecutive victories. In addition to big-time work in the closing period, he finished with 42 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
While the performance was memorable in its own right, it was actually Harden’s head coach that made perhaps the most interesting comment on what transpired. Mike D’Antoni, who famously teamed with Steve Nash to produce legendary offenses with the Phoenix Suns, indicated that Harden is “the best offensive player he’s ever seen.”
That’s a massive piece of praise given that D’Antoni coached both Nash in Phoenix and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, and he wasn’t done there. He continued to explain why he gives this honor to Harden, via Sam Amick of USA Today:
“He’s a hell of a player, first off. It’s a combination of everything. There are other players who might be better at this, or a little bit better at that. But when you put everything together, and the way he passes, the way he sees teammates, the way he can lob, the way he can fight through a foul. I mean even on an off night, he’s probably getting 30, 40 points, and I mean efficiently. And he doesn’t even have anything going. But he’s so efficient, and he gets other guys involved. … He’s got one flaw. He does get tired some. He’s mortal. And that’s it.
Harden’s MVP campaign includes per-game averages of 31.2 points, 8.7 assists and 5.2 rebounds but his efficiency is also a significant reason why the 28 year old’s play is standing out above the rest. His league-leading 30.67 PER is wildly impressive from a perimeter player and Harden is leading the NBA with a 62.5 percent true shooting mark. That is unreal when considering the difficulty of his shot-making.
While Harden’s overall showing will be met with skepticism by some until it is accompanied by the ultimate playoff success, D’Antoni was anything but shy in his description after Tuesday’s game. To be fair, most wouldn’t indicate that Harden is the best offensive player in the history of the league but, considering his workload, saying that he’s the best offensive player in the game today isn’t crazy in the slightest. When D’Antoni places someone ahead of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash in his personal hierarchy, there is reason to take notice.