Quick Thoughts on the James Harden TradeWhen 2012 Sixth Man of the Year James Harden balked at receiving anything less than a max contract from the Oklahoma City Thunder, Thunder General Manager Sam Presti shipped Harden to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, a second round draft pick and two first round draft picks, one of which originally belonged to Toronto and is thus virtually certain to be a Lottery pick. Houston General Manager Daryl Morey apparently thinks that he has made off like a thief in the night, convinced that Jeremy Lin (who Morey's Rockets first cut before later signing him to a huge contract after Lin's brief celebrated run with the Knicks) and Harden are superstars in the making--but if there is a thief here, it is Presti, who preserved salary cap flexibility while converting the third best player on his team into an excellent rotation player (Martin), a 2012 Lottery pick (Lamb) and two more first round picks that (considering Presti's past record) will likely be turned into rotation players either directly through the Draft or indirectly by being packaged in a later trade. Here are some thumbnail points to consider about the Harden saga:
1) Harden was the Thunder's third best player. It makes no sense to pay the third best player max money; Harden is not worth max money and the extra cost would not just be a financial burden for Thunder ownership but also greatly restrict Presti's ability to improve the roster in the next few years.
2) If Harden had accepted the Thunder's very generous offer, he could have become this decade's Manu Ginobili--a respected member of a championship team who likely would have made the All-Star team more than once while never having to fully carry the load. He would have still received a ton of money and--like Ginobili and Lamar Odom--he would have been called one of the league's most underrated and unselfish players.
3) Harden is a very good player but all of his weaknesses will be exposed in Houston if the Rockets expect him to be a franchise player. Harden is not an All-NBA First or Second Team caliber player. He is not someone who can draw double teams over the course of an 82 game season and then carry a team deep into the playoffs as the number one option. He is not Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James.
4) Harden, like Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili, is precisely the kind of player who many "stat gurus" overrate. Players who are second or third options can be very "efficient" because of the context in which they accumulate their statistics. Harden and Ginobili benefit from playing limited minutes, from often facing second team players and from facing first team players who have logged heavy minutes against other first teamers; they also benefit from not having the nightly responsibility to shoot 20 times while dealing with double teams. Gasol was a solid first option in Memphis for several years but he could not lead the Grizzlies to a single playoff win, never mind winning a series. Being the first option wore Gasol down mentally and physically but when he arrived in L.A. he proved to be a great second option to Kobe Bryant on two championship teams. Gasol's field goal percentage and offensive rebounding immediately improved when he became a Laker because the defensive attention that Bryant attracted gave Gasol a free run at the hoop for easy baskets and second chance opportunities. The problem with many "stat gurus" is that they just crunch numbers without considering such contextual details and this leads to ridiculous assertions about Gasol being more valuable than Bryant and Harden being more valuable than Russell Westbrook.
5) It is not a coincidence that "stat guru" Daryl Morey desperately tried to bring Gasol--a declining player who was never a franchise player even at his peak--to Houston to be the team's centerpiece and that, failing to accomplish this, he shifted his sights to Harden. Morey undoubtedly believes that his numbers show that Gasol and Harden are franchise players.
6) There is a big difference between building a real life NBA championship team versus impressing gullible media members and some NBA fans who fancy themselves as experts based on the data they import into their homemade spreadsheets.
7) Here are some statistics that likely will not be mentioned at the much ballyhooed annual "stat guru" conference: three and 9-10, the Rockets' Lottery appearances and playoff record respectively during Morey's five years in Houston.
posted by David Friedman @ 11:23 PM