James Harden is a better Steve Nash

Get ready, James Harden fans and haters. His name is going to come up over and over again until the end of the season, until MVP voting is over, until you barf. So get ready to barf.

James Harden has always been two things:

  1. An incredible offensive talent who can score at will
  2. Completely devoid of assisting others on the team.

But suddenly this season, Harden is an assist machine, averaging 13 assists per game. The pundits bound to the top of their soap boxes, proclaiming the work that Harden put in in the off season, how he’s changed his game, how he is ready to become the complete player that we all knew he could be and lead the Houston Rockets deep into the playoffs.

Mike D’Antoni on October 26th said that he wanted James Harden to double his assist total from last year. Even Harden couldn’t see that, although his bravado isn’t usually held at bay any other time, and just a few days later he told Yahoo Sports that he’s not only the best point guard in the league, but the best player. D’Antoni knew this season was going to be an epic one for James Harden because he already had a James Harden named Steve Nash not too long ago.

When Nash got to the Suns in 2004, he averaged 5.8 assists per game. His first year in Phoenix with D’Antoni, he averaged 11.5. That’s right mathematicians, almost exactly double. The next two seasons in a row Steve Nash won MVP of the league, he averaged double digit assists, or close to it for the next seven seasons, most of them with D’Antoni.

Steve Nash and James Harden are different players. Harden is a much greater offensive scoring threat than Nash ever was, but the assist totals will be similar. D’Antoni’s run and gun, high movement pick and roll offense should get the credit. All offense goes through Harden as the play moves around him. If the play works properly, Harden should have an easy assist option, if the play falls apart, James Harden does his James Harden thing. The Beard is as The Beard does.

But D’Antoni won’t get much credit and I’m sure by now everyone has forgotten that Steve Nash existed. So all we’ll hear is how Harden is the surefire MVP, the only other possible candidate besides the alien Russel Westbrook.  Both the Thunder and the Rockets are coming in around .500 so far this season, and if both guys keep putting up these types of numbers they’re going to be in MVP talks next to LeBron and Curry for sure.

But is James Harden that much of a different player? Or is he the product of D’Antoni’s system?  It was a system that didn’t work as well in New York without a dynamic point guard, someone like Harden or Nash. The Rockets could be the team no one wants to face in the playoffs, that is, if they can make the playoffs. If they fail to make the playoffs, then Harden won’t be Steve Nash, he’ll be just another player on a terrible team that didn’t make the playoffs and had bloated stats. It’ll be fun to watch, though.