James Harden’s torrid play of late is even more impressive than it seems on the surface.
The Houston Rockets superstar averaged a mind-bending 43.6 points per game in January, following up a December in which he scored 36.4 points per game.
He’s now averaging an easy league-best of 36.2 points this season, more than any other player since Michael Jordan went off for 37.1 points per game in 1987.
What Harden is doing might not be unprecedented in league annals, but is undoubtedly the most impressive individual scoring performance of the last 30 years.
And he’s done it all amid injuries to his two most important teammates, a reality certainly not lost on Rockets star Chris Paul.
“It’s been great to watch, and even better because he’s on my team,” Paul said of Harden’s scoring binge, in an interview with USA TODAY’s Scott Gleeson. “The injuries we’ve unfortunately had this season, we’ve needed him to do what he’s been doing. Once we get everybody healthy, hopefully we’ll be ready to make a run for the championship.”
Paul returned to the lineup last week after missing over a month of play with a strained left hamstring, the same injury that caused him to miss a portion of the 2015 playoffs as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers.
He sat out the final two games of last year’s epic Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors with a similar injury to his right hamstring.
But Paul isn’t the only cog who’s been mostly absent for the Rockets during Harden’s ongoing MVP showcase. Clint Capela had surgery to repair ligament damage in his right thumb after injuring it in mid-January, and won’t return to the floor until some time after the All-Star break.
Will Paul’s re-acclimation to the NBA game and the subsequent addition of Capela vault Houston back into title contention? That remains to be seen.
Regardless, it goes without saying that Harden will continue setting box scores ablaze.