In The Playoffs, James Harden Can Prove He’s A True Superstar

April 10, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts after being charged with a foul against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
April 10, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts after being charged with a foul against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

As James Harden leads his overlooked Houston Rockets into the playoffs, this could perhaps be his most important postseason in his young career

After a rude awakening last season, in which the Houston Rockets lost to the Golden State Warriors (again) in the playoffs, James Harden had to look himself in the mirror and figure out what needed to change.

That summer, instead of working out in the glitz, glamour, and celebrity atmosphere of Los Angeles, Harden returned to his roots in Phoenix, where he developed a new routine of eating cleaner, increased his offseason workout routine, and mastered the art of playing through contact.

But it wasn’t until his meeting with Arizona State sports performer Rich Wenner that Harden learned the importance of leadership. Thereafter, the “Bearded One” reenergized the Rockets to a sizzling 55-27 record, for 3rd in the Western Conference. In fact, Harden’s all-around revolution warrants the question – Can James Harden become a “True Superstar?”

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Before you go crazy with your “Is this writer crazy” or “How stupid is this guy” reactions, ask yourself this question first. What determines a true superstar in the NBA?

As Gabe Bein from pointed out, “A superstar is someone who can have a team built around him…He should also able to take them deep into the playoffs and be that guy you can depend on in the closing minutes…Superstars are the face of the franchise and a GM would literally break his arm before trading a superstar…In order to attain superstar status, a player should be judged for his play on the court and not his life off of it.”

Looking at Harden’s current profile, he checks off three of the mentioned statements above, with ease. There’s no doubt Morey would injure a body part before dealing the all-star, Harden is the heartbeat and soul of that franchise. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey placed a four-year, $118 million extension in his hands, to make sure of it.

He’s shown if you place shooters around him – Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Lou Willems, and Troy Williams – you can build around him.

Factor in the traction he commands daily with the ball and his ability to drive and find open shooters –  resulting in 36 percent shooting on three-point attempts (1st), 24 made three-pointers in a game (second in NBA history) and a record-breaking (1181) three-pointers in a single season – you realize just how valuable a player Harden really is.

During crunch time (last five minutes of the game), according to, Harden shoots a horrific 35.5 percent, far worse than MVP challenger Russell Westbrook (44%). However this season, Harden put the Denver Nuggets, Oklahoma City Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans to bed, with his clutch play.

Not to mention, ranks Harden in the top 10, ahead of Paul George and slightly behind Jimmy Butler, CJ McCollum and John Wall, in terms of total points during crunch time.

His production on the court has gone from impressive to historic, similar to Russell Westbrook’s 42 triple-doubles this season. He’s averaged no less than 25.9 points in four seasons, with the Rockets. Even during last year’s debacle, Harden put together a campaign of 29.0 points, 7.5 assists, and 8.1 rebounds.

This season he took it to another level, averaging career highs in (29.2) points, (11.2) assists, assist percentage (50.4%) and triple-doubles (20), consisting of two 50-point triple doubles, making him the first player ever to have multiple 50-point triple-doubles in one season.

Unfortunately for Harden, his biggest threat towards the NBA MVP award claimed the mark with a 51-point triple double in October, marking the highest scoring triple-double in league history. He also just broke Oscar Robertson’s single season triple double mark.

Case being, if not for Westbrook, Harden would be preparing for his first NBA MVP award, without any speculation or debate.

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  • This leaves us discovering the brick wall, keeping him from reaching “True Superstar” status – His non-impressive playoff record, thus far at least.

    This probably reminds you of LeBron James before he officially became The King, winning his first championship in 2012, as a member of the Miami Heat. Before LeBron started to count his championship rings, there was a time he struggled to capture just one. Everybody knew the greatness of LeBron, it was that same greatness that drew comparisons to arguably the greatest basketball player of all-time Michael Jordan, but his lack of titles quickly shut down the conversation.

    James was so great, similar to Westbrook and Harden, he was a walking triple-double, capable of padding the box scores with anybody around him.

    Since the Houston Rockets acquired Harden in 2012, they’ve bounced out the first round three times and made the Western Conference Finals once – not forgetting the Rockets come back from a 3-1 deficit against the choking Clippers, so the case can be made that Houston got “lucky” until Golden State finished them off in five games.

    Harden’s shooting in the postseason hasn’t resembled his regular season form, either. According to Basketball Reference, besides the 2014-15 goldilocks roll to the WCF, Harden has shot 39 percent, 38 percent, and 41 percent, in those first round playoff exists.

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    The clock is ticking for Harden. His court dominance has reached unreal levels, enough to ask when’s the championship coming – similar to Kevin Durant’s situation in Golden State, Chris Paul’s situation in Los Angeles and Carmelo Anthony in New York.

    Earlier this season (in November), Harden said, “I’m the best player in the world.”

    It’s time he proves it. In the playoffs.