When the Houston Rockets traded for James Harden this last weekend, there was some question as to what kind of player they were getting. While all agreed that Harden was a very good player and one of the best shooting guards in the league, it was unclear if (and how quickly) he could acclimate himself to being a clear-cut first option after spending his first three NBA seasons with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
On Wednesday night, in his Rockets debut at the Detroit Pistons, Harden answered those questions by scoring 37 points on 14-of-25 shooting, dishing out 12 assists, and playing 44 minutes in a 105-96 win. Harden was particularly impressive in the fourth quarter, leading Houston to a 33-15 advantage to take control of the game.
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Those marks set a number of notable milestones, including the second-most points in NBA history for a player in his first game after changing teams. Harden also became only the fourth player in the past 25 seasons to tally at least 37 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, four steals, and a block. The other three are pretty good company: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Dwyane Wade. Counting the official completion of his five-year, $80 million contract extension, I'd say Harden had a pretty good day.
As evidenced in the highlight video above, Harden didn't look especially different from the player we saw in Oklahoma City. He hit jumpers, slashed to the lane, moved in transition, and did virtually everything else we know him to be capable of doing. What was different is that he was asked to do more of it and didn't suffer whatsoever. The quality of play wasn't different, but the responsibilities were.
The Pistons are not a particularly good team, and the fact that Harden had to play 44 minutes against them suggests rest might be at a premium for the Rockets star this season. But, no matter how much we equivocate, Harden proved that he can lead an offense. Guys don't score 37 points on efficient shooting and find their teammates for good shots just because they had a good matchup. It was a dominant performance.
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