I've been waiting for it for a while now, and it seems like it's finally happening: NBA Twitter has turned on James Harden. It's been a long time coming and I'm all here for it, but not because I don't like Harden. He's one of my favorite players in the league; his ability to piss off other players and fans alike is so amusing to me. I've been a Harden fan for a few seasons now, and a lot of that actually started with NBA2K16. The Rockets became my go-to online team and I played with them for a few more years, so naturally I came to appreciate how much of an offensive powerhouse Harden was. I firmly believe that he should have won the MVP in 2017 and I will die on that hill. Westbrook averaged a triple-double, but the Thunder finished as the sixth seed (woo-hoo) and were eliminated by Harden's Rockets in the first round (in five games!). That seems to still be a controversial claim, but if people want to be blind to facts, that's fine by me.
Last night, the Rockets beat the Utah Jazz 102-97. A few days after putting up his fourth career 50-point triple-double, Harden had another impressive showing with 47-6-5. You're not going to hear anything about how many points he scored or the Rockets getting a crucial win, though. For many, Harden may have literally leaped over the line when he doubled the amount of step-backs in his signature move (https://twitter.com/Ballislife/status/1074875726829113344):
There was constant debate last year about whether Harden's signature step-back move was a travel, but this one actually was. About as blatant as a travel as you can commit, but he got away with it and people were so mad. Harden's defense used to be the most criticized aspect of his game, but now it seems like people just hate the way he plays basketball. The Rockets (I thought) were a genuinely fun team to watch last year due to the energy CP3 and Harden brought to the floor, but this year has been a lot different. They just aren't very good this year, and with a lack of solid perimeter wings to stretch the floor for threes, they've become a lot more stagnant and there isn't a sense of fun around the team. Despite the looming negativity, Harden is still enjoying success. I love his ability to gather points at the free throw line; it gets annoying for other teams, but the point of the game is to score, and Harden does just that. He currently leads the league in scoring (31.5), but the Rockets are the 10th seed in the West (15-14). They are only a half-game back of the 8th seed, so if he keeps up this insane offensive production the Rockets should have no issues finding themselves a spot in April's playoffs.
Harden being hated only makes me want to root for him more. The way he plays isn't always fun to watch, but I'm going to support lefties with range until the day I die. Ideally Harden would have a better team around him, and it would only make sense that GM Daryl Morey goes out and adds a few missing pieces. JR Smith seems pretty washed up, but playing alongside Harden and CP3 would allow him to only shoot threes, and when JR is hot, he can shoot you out of the gym. There also was that Finals fuck up, but (I guess?) it happens.
After finally winning the MVP last year, it seems almost impossible that Harden would find himself back in the conversation this year unless he can somehow drag Houston's abysmal bench to the top seed in the West. His scoring has been pretty outstanding lately, and with less guys around him than years past, he may be able to keep tacking on the points. Maybe Harden can have a Kobe-esque season and put up 35 a game; that'd be damn impressive.