James Harden has been on fire for the past few seasons, cementing his spot as an All-Star, an MVP candidate, and, believe it or not, he's found a way to be even better for the Houston Rockets this season.
The bearded guard insists that winning is all that matters, and while his individual stats have been phenomenal in the recent past, he's not yet in his prime.
After 16 games into the season, James Harden has managed to lead the league in both points and assists, scoring 31.6 points, and 9.9 assists per game. He is full of confidence and knows where to pick his spots no matter what the defense does.
Adding to that, the Rockets guard is shooting at a career-best 40.4 percent from beyond the arc, which is no easy task and incredibly efficient considering the team's goal is to launch 50 3-pointers a game.
Playing without Chris Paul, who was brought in to be his help at the guard position, for most of the season, the team once again relied on James Harden's prowess to press through and they succeeded, going on a six-game winning streak before losing one and starting on a new streak.
Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni, who spoke with reporters, is in awe, notwithstanding he sees it first hand every night.
“Last year, I thought he was unbelievable. I don't know what he is this year. He's gone up another level.”
NBA defenses are beginning to adjust to each team and its stars, which is even more amazing that Harden's averages have risen as the season progresses.
James Harden has averaged 36.7 points, making 47.2 percent of his shots and 44.5 percent of his 3-pointers in the past nine games. The previous eight games saw averages of 26 points on 42.2 percent shooting and 34.6 percent from beyond the arc.
What is his biggest weapon? That would be the patented step back three that you see quite often if Harden is not busy driving to the bucket trying to draw a foul.
“I work on that. I practice it. Defenders are scared or kind of nervous about me getting to the basket because they know it opens up a lot of opportunities for my teammates. So they give me a step. The step-back helps me out even more.”
The 6'5″ guard is coach Mike D'Antoni's dream player, and he can't stop gushing over how well he plays.
“The guy is so good offensively, it makes him so much more difficult to guard, if that's possible. But his efficiency is off the charts. That's where he's really good: how efficient he has been. A big part of that is making shots.”
The goal is efficiency, and seeing James Harden put up the kind of numbers he has this season for the Rockets is intentional. After dropping 12 pounds in the off-season, he plays at the same pace, but carefully makes his moves much faster looking to use more of his quickness on defenses.
P.J. Tucker who has a reputation as a tough defender and is now a teammate concurs, and says Harden is better now than when he had to defend him.
“The game is easy, man, for him. It comes so easy. He makes it look so easy. He's so smart, picking and choosing when he attacks, when he makes plays, when he passes, just everything. How he dissects other people's defenses is amazing. It's like he's getting better every game.”
At this pace, it just might be the year the Beard finally wins the MVP trophy that has been eluding him.