The NBA's 30 Men of Intrigue: James Harden

(Editor’s Note: To kick off our coverage of the 2015-16 NBA season, we’re profiling the most intriguing player of all 30 NBA teams. What makes them intriguing? It could be their talent, quirkiness or the unknown, it doesn’t matter. Follow The NBA’s 30 Men of Intrigue series here with us at TSFJ, as our friends and family join us for another awesome basketball campaign.)

By Brandon Caldwell / @_brandoc

James Harden (Beard Gang Extraordinare)
2014-15 Houston Rockets: 56-26, lost in Western Finals

Everyone hates the Houston Rockets. Everyone hates how their idea of free wheeling basketball is crashing into the lane and drawing fouls. Everyone hates that their leading big man is a huge dork who has a rather impressive assault rifle collection, can get arrested for said assault rifles for having them at the airport and not get charged with anything. Everyone hates their general manager because in an ocean of pretty glamorous exotic fish, he’s a shark when it comes to the trade deadline. He has not only assembled a deep roster, he’s accumulated more interesting parts welded together than a retro episode of Pimp My Ride.

Yet, the most interesting thing that makes the Rockets the Rockets is James Harden. You know James Harden. The guy who finished second in MVP voting last season but was awarded an MVP award by the NBA Players Association. The one who signed a $200 million deal with Adidas and became tabloid fodder in the offseason because he loved his Jordans and wouldn’t stop wearing them. Dwight Howard is the corny, yet more likable cousin of Karl Malone. Harden is Harden, flat out.

GM Daryl Morey has surrounded Harden with easily the best team he’s had since he arrived in Houston three Novembers ago. There’s an arsenal of big men to feed in the post with the emergence of Clint “I Also Dunked On Brandon Knight” Capela and potential Most Improved Player Donatas Motiejunas. There’s a large swath of swingmen to kick to if slashing to the basket isn’t an option in Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer and Marcus Thornton. He asked his GM for a PG to take the load off of his ball handling duties. Morey got him Ty Lawson, a blur of an offensive stud who is seeking redemption after washing out in Denver due to personal issues.

Why is Harden the Rockets’ man of intrigue, the center of its absurd universe? He’s the leader of a literal motley crew of vets, castoffs, a Euro big (Motiejunas) who calls himself “The Player of Houston Rockets” on Twitter, a Swiss guy still growing as a player and more. His style of play is aggravating to viewers yet his slow-rock step back is the stuff of Vine legend. He made 715 free throws last season, tops in the league and could have made a serious run at Jerry West’s ungodly 840 makes in 1966. No player kicked out to more wide-open threes than Harden last season. When you translate a NBA 2K offense to real life, you get the Rockets and you get James Harden.

The fight at point guard between Ty Lawson and Patrick Beverly is going to be a talking point for most of the season. Still, it’s going to fall upon Harden to improve on a career high 27.4 PPG on shooting splits of 44/37/87. He’s told ESPN that he’s the best player in the league, that he wants to make the hallowed 50/40/90 club (of note, only one shooting guard has ever cracked that mark, Reggie Miller in 1993-94). He dates a Kardashian and literally had a truck of shoes backed up to his house. The awkward level of fame that Harden encompasses now is only matched by his absurdity on the court.

The easiest argument to believe that the Rockets will be better than a year which they fell in the Western Conference Finals? As a whole, the Rockets clocked 180 DNPs due to injury last season, most amongst playoff teams and third overall compared to the Los Angeles Lakers & Minnesota Timberwolves. His end last season was far more perplexing than what happened to LeBron in the Finals with a NBA-playoff record 12 turnovers. When you change a record stat in NBA 2K, you’re stuck wondering more.

This is year three of the Harden/Howard combination in Houston and in years one and two, injury hindered what could have been for the Rockets. The Rockets are all in on 2015, hoping that Terrence Jones doesn’t back down in the paint and all of their ingredients, however odd as they may be raise a third banner in Toyota Center. What faults they did have last season – free throw shooting – have been masked, mainly because Morey has micromanaged the team like how you would Dynasty on NCAA Football.

Everyone hates the Houston Rockets. Why not be the leader of the team everyone loves to hate?

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