April 14, 2017 at 6:28 pm

Beard Over Brodie: Why Harden, not Westbrook, should be MVP

James Harden vs. Russell Westbrook 2016-17 MVP Race

We just witnessed two of the best, historical individual performances ever in a regular season since Oscar Robertson. James Harden and Russell Westbrook have made their way to the record book with impressive seasons and will duel in an explosive first round matchup in the NBA playoffs.

However, one of these players has seemingly pulled ahead in the MVP race. Russell Westbrook is the popular vote to become the 2016-2017 NBA Most Valuable Player. Despite putting on an equally astonishing individual performance this season, James Harden has been discredited in his MVP campaign due to his team’s success.

Below is a compilation of the most common reasons used by national media for Westbrook as MVP … and my reasons why not.

Russell Westbrook is Mr. TRIPLE-DOUBLE! He is averaging one and has the most ever in one season!

Let’s put this out there now. This is an amazing feat. Averaging a triple-double and getting the most triple-doubles in a season is crazy. James Harden was less than two rebounds away from averaging one himself. Check out the comparison between the MVP finalists:

The Brodie: 31.9 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists per game
The Beard: 29.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 11.2 assists per game

The triple-double is Westbrook’s strongest (maybe only) case over James Harden. But if we dig a bit deeper, we’d see Harden’s numbers are actually more impressive. You might not be able to fit the headline in 72 characters or less, but Harden has put up similar numbers on a more efficient level.

Despite the similar stat line average, Westbrook had a higher usage rate than Harden, meaning Brodie had more opportunities to put up his numbers. Westbrook got his extra bucket on five more field goal attempts per game and at a lower field goal percentage than Harden.

James Harden

Russell Westbrook is putting up numbers we haven’t seen since Oscar Robertson!

So is James Harden!

James Harden averaged 29.1 ppg, 11.2 apg, and 8.1 rpg this season. Only Oscar Robertson has averaged at least 28 ppg, 11 apg, and 7 rpg in a single season.

Speaking of which, Harden is the only player since Nate Archibald in 1973 to average at least 29 ppg and 11 apg.

James Harden has the most 30+ points, 10+ assist games in a season since 1983-84.

James Harden is the only player in NBA history with at least 50 points, 15 assists, and 15 rebounds in a single game.

James Harden is the first player in NBA history to have multiple 50-point triple doubles in a season.

James Harden is the only player in NBA history with 2,000+ points, 900+ assists, and 600+ rebounds in a single season.

James Harden is the only player in NBA history to score at least 2,000 points and assist on at least 2,000 points in a season.

It’s like James Harden is a tree of records, and he’s shaking them all loose!

James Harden

James Harden has a better team around him. Westbrook did it on his own.

Really? That’s not what the talking heads were saying before the season started. Here are some predictions from major sports media outlets:

ESPN
HOU: 45-37 (tied 6th seed)
OKC: 46-36 (5th seed)
They were pretty close with one of those teams. The other team exceeded their expectation by a large margin.

CBS Sports
HOU win totals: 42, 43, 45, 47, 45
OKC win totals: 45, 44, 44, 43, 47
Similar numbers. Again, one team blew these projections out of the water. The other team was in the realm of their forecast.

USA Today
HOU: 40-42 (tied 8th seed… with Dallas)
OKC: 44-38 (7th seed)

Sporting News
HOU: (8th Seed)
OKC: (5th Seed)

Bleacher Report
HOU: 38-44
OKC: 43-39
“The Rockets didn’t do quite enough to avoid a lottery finish.”
“The Thunder added plenty of talent by trading for Victor Oladipo and Ersan Ilyasova … This team is no longer a playoff lock, but it enters the season as a good bet to play more than 82 games–even if it’s not many more.”

Actual outcome:
HOU: 55-27, 3rd
OKC: 47-35, 6th

Harden is truly responsible for the success of this team. Along with his historical season, Harden leads the league in touches per game, and he is number one in win shares. That’s quite an impact on the 3rd best team record in the NBA.

Russell Westbrook lost Kevin Durant and finished with a worse record than last year’s team. As expected.

James Harden lost Dwight Howard and finished 3rd overall in the league after going .500 the previous year. With a new coach. As not expected.

Check out this gem:

Nice opening argument there, Skip. “There’s snipers. Everywhere. Russell doesn’t have … ” I would bring up the poor 3-point shooting percentage the Rockets have since the All-Star break, but I don’t want to depress myself. People are acting like Harden is playing on the Dream Team.

James Harden

James Harden is a product of D’Antoni’s system; of course he’s producing those numbers.

D’Antoni coached the 76ers (associate), Lakers, and Knicks before joining the Rockets. He had a rebuilding project in Philadelphia, he had Melo in NY, and he had a star-studded roster in LA. Yet, all of those teams vastly underperformed and underwhelmed despite playing in D’Antoni’s system.

If I told you a washed-up, one-way coach in Mike D’Antoni was going to fix the dysfunctional and disappointing 41-41 Houston Rockets who just lost Dwight Howard, you would have put Morey on the hot seat. And you did. And I did. And the media did.

Many fans and media members questioned the hiring of a coach whose best days were far behind him and locked in a box in Phoenix. D’Antoni was considered outdated in today’s game.

Fast forward to today, and all of a sudden, Mike D’Antoni is the maker of stars.

Where are the historical seasons and top-3 seeded teams of Robert Covington, Carmelo Anthony, and Kobe Bryant under D’Antoni’s system?

It takes a lot more than plugging in a player into a system for it to work. Harden deserves credit for taking D’Antoni’s system to new heights. Some would say he deserves credit an MVP would get. By the way, where was the “Kerr Effect” argument when Steph Curry won the MVP during Steve Kerr’s first year as his head coach in 2014?

James Harden

Conclusion

Somehow, finishing with the 3rd best record in the NBA has become a negative to James Harden’s case for MVP. This is a world where having a better team goes against you. As if “working harder” should be a significant metric in determining this year’s MVP.

Since when has having a top-seeded team been a detriment to a player’s MVP case? Not in the last 30 years. The MVPs in the past 30 YEARS were on a top-3 team. Westbrook’s OKC Thunder will finish 6th in this year’s western conference. Harden’s Rockets will be 3rd overall.

Stephen Curry was back-to-back MVP for 2015 and 2016. His GSW were 1st place both years.

What a time to be alive. Harden and Westbrook have put up historic numbers in entertaining fashion. Historic individual numbers versus historic individual numbers AND team success. How is this even close?

If each MVP case was presented without the national media hoopla and bias, there really is only one player that stands out.

That player is James Harden.

James Harden

Posted in Houston Rockets |
April 13, 2017 at 8:12 pm

Laurel D’Antoni is passionate about helping Houston’s kids

Houston Rockets Women's Book Drive - Laurel D'Antoni

The Houston Rockets Women’s Organization and Reliant have teamed up to host a book drive for Game 2 of the Rockets first round series with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Fans can bring in new or gently used books and for each book donated, they get a raffle ticket for a chance to win one of six player prize packages that will be given away during the game.

I had a chance to interview Laurel D’Antoni, the wife of Mike D’Antoni, and it was a great experience. She’s passionate about the fans and helping the literacy problem here in Houston. Here’s what she had to say about the book drive, the Rockets and being married to an offensive genius.


It’s great to meet you.

You too. By the way, I like your website. Did you do it?

Yes, I started it a little over 20 years ago…

Did you hack your girlfriend’s site?

Wow, you’ve done your research.

I thought it was pretty cool. Are you still with that girlfriend?

She’s my wife now.

OK, so she forgave you.

I hope so by now.

But it’s cool. I think our fans are our greatest attribute. They’re very generous. We did a season ticket event and said ‘hey you guys, bring books because we’re collecting them’, and people actually bought us books. That tells you a lot about Houston people, right?

No doubt. And this is your first year in Houston. What has your experience been like in the city and with the Rockets organization?

I’ve been in the league a long time. I’ve been with Mike for 30 years. Most professional sports teams have a women’s organization. They understand it’s a platform to go out into the community and do something. The fact that we move around a lot means we need to jump into the community pretty fast. We have an incredible Community Relations department here under Sarah Joseph. She can only send the players out so much time so she can use the women to go out and do things in the community. That’s kind of where it came from. Specifically, with the book drive, I did it three years. We created it in Phoenix. The first year, we got 6,000 books. The second year, 8,000. The third year, 10,000.

I proposed it to our women here and they all said yes. Then the Rockets came back and said, hey, we want to partner you with Reliant. Reliant, one of their most prestigious marketing partners, felt it was a perfect marriage. Then we found a community partner with the Barbara Bush Literacy Foundation, who has already vetted the non-profits and already done massive research on the literacy problems here. They’re published. They know how to reach these kids. It was made for us, a perfect opportunity. I’m excited about it.

I’m passionate about it. All my family are educators. All of Mike’s family are educators. The reality is in Houston, we know that one of out of five Houstonians are functionally illiterate. Now part of that is because we have a very big immigrant population but there are a lot of other reasons. When you look at third grade students, one in four aren’t meeting the standards here.

So we know that we have a problem. But if you have middle and upper income families that have on average 13 age-related books in their household and then you go look at the lower income families and they have one book for every 300 kids — there’s a problem. The problem is those Moms are trying to feed their kids and they can’t go buy a book. That’s where we step in because we’ve got the most awesome fans in the NBA. They’re compassionate. Everybody has books in their closet. We are looking for new or gently used books. We’ve got seventh graders that are reading adult books. So you can do this. This is something that is very easy to do.

So fans can bring them in to Toyota Center on the second game of the playoffs?

Yes. We are going to do this for the second game of the first round of the playoffs (on Wednesday). We have partners from the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, Reliant and our Rockets Women’s Organization are going to be outside all of the entrances of the arena for Game 2. We are going to collect all the books. For every book you give us, I’m going to give you one raffle ticket. So if you bring me 50 books, you’re going to get 50 tickets. For every ticket you get, you will have an opportunity to win an incredible player package. What we’ve done is we’ve got Clint Capela, Ryan Anderson, Patrick Beverley, Eric Gordon, James Harden and Trevor Ariza and for those six packages, we’re going to give you their autographed jersey and an incredible MVP player package. And then we’re going to grab you at the end of the game when those players come off the floor, you’re going to meet them and he’s going to give you the jersey.

That’s awesome.

All their girlfriends asked the guys to participate and the guys said, ‘yeah, we’re in’. I hope we win because it will make it a little bit less nerve-wracking, but they’re going to get the chance to meet the player and get their jersey at the game.

What kind of books are you looking for?

We’re looking for children’s books but keep in mind that we’ve got older kids reading at an adult level. Not to worry. The very next day, the Bush Foundation is going to bring in over 30 non-profits and they are going to select those books that are appropriate for their constituents. Whatever books are left over, we’re going to donate to the Houston Library and it will be one of their fundraisers, so it’s a win-win for everybody.

I got to ask you about the Rockets. I think when Mike was first hired here, fans were a little bit, maybe, shocked thinking —

What is wrong with those fans?

I think we all have egg on our face at this point.

But that’s OK. It makes me feel good.

But here he is now getting all this play for Coach of the Year and, obviously you’re going to be biased but —

I am biased, yes.

Do you think he deserves that award this year?

Absolutely. I think that… he’s an exciting coach. He gives maximum confidence to his players. He likes his players. His players are like his kids. We have a 23-year old so they’re kind of the same age group. He likes them. He doesn’t try to change anybody to be what they’re not. What he asks of all of his players is to adapt a little bit because it’s never one player that we all have to adapt to him. It’s a team sport. And for us to win big, we have to have complete team commitment. Everybody does that by adjusting and adapting and learning.

I have to tell you, what James Harden has done and decided to take on a completely different role as a playmaker. You look at his assists. It’s incredible what he’s done. He’s done it willingly and openly. It’s amazing. That’s a real credit to him and a credit to my husband that they like each other. It’s good.

You were there with the Suns when Steve Nash was MVP twice. Does watching Harden and the Rockets remind you of that?

Yes. Where it’s similar — in Phoenix, the owner of the team, the Colangelos, our general manager at the time was Bryan Colangelo, the families, we were very tight, we were all on the same page and there were no nooses around. That’s the way we are here. These are special opportunities. I think anybody will tell you, in a work environment, if you are from the top down all on the same page, you’re going to be extremely productive. We all know that if there is one guy in the organization that is a kink, we know our productivity is going to go down. There is a lot of research on that about the one jerk will lower the expectations and productivity. That’s where it’s similar. Everybody is on the same page. Everybody wants to win and they’re all willing to adjust to a singular vision on how we’re going to do that. That’s why we’re successful. Our guys are committed. Our coaches are committed. Our staff is committed and all the way through to our ushers to our video coordinators to Tad (Brown) and to our owner Leslie Alexander. Completely committed.

I wish you the best of luck with this. I hope you have a great turnout.

I appreciate it. The biggest thing for us — I see the fans. They’re a little bit slow getting here, but you know what, we were in LA and New York and it was like that as well. I hope that they’re enjoying the product we’re putting out there because I know my pillow talk is about my husband, if the fans are having fun and how was the game. The first question he asks me about the game is ‘Did I have fun?’ He loves the way his team plays and he’s doing it because he wants the fans to appreciate it and enjoy it so I hope that they are.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
April 10, 2017 at 1:07 pm

Rockets vs. Thunder: Five Matchups To Watch

James Harden Russell Westbrook

I can’t remember the last time we knew the Rockets’ seeding so early. This conference has been competitive for so long that it usually comes down to the last day, but the first round matchups in the West are set and the Rockets are getting ready to host Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder this weekend.

This is going to be a classic and there are plenty of games within the game to keep an eye on.

James Harden vs. Russell Westbrook

Let’s be honest: This was meant to be. It had to happen.

The league’s top two MVP candidates go head-to-head in this series. The award has all but been handed to Westbrook already with media fawning all over his every move. Of course Harden is just over here having a better and more efficient individual season and (as a result) more team success, but hey… triple-doubles.

Still, it’s fascinating to witness the hypocrisy that goes on with the media’s view of Harden. This is a guy who put up monster numbers last season and didn’t make a single All-NBA Team because his team wasn’t that impressive, finishing as the 8th seed. His numbers are even better this season, his team has destroyed all expectations by likely finishing as the third-best team in the league and here he is actually being discredited because his team is so good. When did the Rockets suddenly become the Warriors or Cavs? Harden is not playing with a single All-Star, past or present. I don’t remember anybody picking the Rockets to finish very high this year or to even finish ahead of OKC.

Meanwhile, Westbrook has OKC as the 6th seed and is being crowned at every turn. Yes, he’s having a terrific season as far as raw totals, but the double standard by the media when it comes to Harden is just comical.

The votes will already be in, but this matchup and series is Harden’s chance to show who truly is the most valuable player this season.

Andre Roberson vs. James Harden

And it won’t be easy.

Andre Roberson is a very tough individual defender — maybe the best in the league at defending Harden. He’s 6-foot-7 with a nearly 6-foot-11 wingspan and has the athleticism to stick with quick guards. In four games against the Thunder this season, Harden is averaging just 20.5 points per game (about nine points under his average) on 34.3% shooting and just 22.6% from long range. A big reason for that is Roberson.

For that reason, you worry that this series has some 2013-14 Portland-like potential, with Roberson playing the Wes Matthews role. If OKC can limit Harden’s effectiveness with just one guy, they can stay home on the shooters.

So Harden is going to have a very challenging matchup. It’s up to him make life tough on Roberson and force the defense to help, creating opportunities for outside shooters or alleyoops inside.

Patrick Beverley vs. Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley

This matchup has real history

Bad blood, folks. You have to love that this is happening again. This one has a lot of history. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, feel free to watch this… and this… and this… and this.

I don’t think Beverley is going to be able to really hinder Westbrook that much on a one-on-one basis… at least not consistently. Westbrook is averaging 36.3 points a night against the Rockets this season, well above his average, so he hasn’t really been slowed by Bev.

But I do think he’s going to play him physical and try to get into his head, forcing him to try to do it by himself. Westbrook has a lot of DeMarcus Cousins in him where his pride and anger can get the best of him. We’re going to see some real friction between these two at some point — guaranteed.

Clint Capela and Nene vs. OKC’s bigs

The Thunder are the best rebounding team in the league, grabbing 46.5 caroms a night, and they rank second in offensive rebounding. They also lead the league in Points in the Paint, scoring just under 50 a night, with nearly 47% of their points coming inside. The Rockets? They give up the most Paint Points in the league at just under 49 a night. So OKC is going to be attacking the Rockets inside over and over again.

The Thunder come at you with a lot of different looks at the big spot in Steven Adams, Enes Kanter and Taj Gibson. Kanter in particular has been able to take advantage of the Rockets’ defensive weakness inside. In Houston’s last matchup with the Thunder at Toyota Center, OKC scored 62 points in the paint.

My point is: Clint Capela is going to have his hands full. If he’s not able to handle the physicality, we’re going to see a lot of Nene, who shot nearly 77%, averaging 14.3 points, in four games against the Thunder this season.

Houston’s bench vs. OKC’s bench

This is where the Rockets must take advantage.

Despite the fact that in the four games head-to-head, the Thunder are matching the Rockets in three-point percentage at 37.2%, OKC is the worst three-point shooting team in the league at just 32.7%. The Rockets start several three-point shooters and can bring in a couple of sharpshooters off their bench as well.

The problem is — Eric Gordon is shooting just 32.5% from three since January 1 while Lou Williams is shooting just 32.8% from three since joining the Rockets. But there’s no doubt about it, both players must come up large in this series. The bench’s job won’t be to hold down the fort when Harden sits but rather to extend leads or trim deficits.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
April 5, 2017 at 7:57 pm

Rockets honor Hall of Fame inductee Tracy McGrady with this video

Houston Rockets honor Tracy McGrady

The Houston Rockets honored one of their stars Wednesday night.

It was Tracy McGrady’s turn as the organization paid tribute to T-Mac during their game against the Denver Nuggets… and the timing couldn’t be much better.

It was recently announced that McGrady will be going into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this year.

In five and a half seasons with the Rockets, T-Mac averaged 22.7 points, 5.6 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 1.31 steals as the Rockets made the playoffs in four of his first five seasons with the team.

He will be most remembered for his 13 points in 33 seconds against the Spurs and playing like an MVP leader during the team’s 22-game win streak in 2007-08. T-Mac also was a controversial figure with some Houston fans by the middle of the 2008-09 season and he was ultimately traded away in 2010, but in Clutch City, time heals wounds and McGrady is celebrated here today.

The video the Rockets put together was outstanding.

The Rockets also gave out bobbleheads to the first 3,000 fans commemorating McGrady’s 13-point explosion against San Antonio.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
April 3, 2017 at 7:12 am

Sam Dekker breaks hand, likely out a month

Sam Dekker broken hand

The Rockets got some bad news Sunday night.

Sam Dekker suffered a broken hand in the game against the Phoenix Suns and is expected to be out three to four weeks. The playoffs start in two weeks.

The play happened with 5:20 left in the fourth quarter when Dekker collided with Jared Dudley while going for a loose ball. Dekker said he knew right away as his left wrist got pinned up in the collision. The play can be seen below:

This is a blow to the Rockets for sure as their depth has been a big key to their success. Troy Williams, who had a career night in his first action as a Rocket, could see some significant time as a result.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
March 31, 2017 at 11:17 pm

Draymond Green delivers cheap shot to James Harden’s injured wrist

Draymond Green cheap shot to James Harden

It’s well known that Draymond Green is one of the dirtiest players in the league, but there’s often a spin to whatever he does.

It’s going to be hard to spin this one.

In the third quarter of Friday night’s game in Oakland, Green delivered a cheap shot blow to James Harden’s wrist in order to get a hand check free. This is not simply clearing a jersey grab… this is a closed fist punch to Harden’s forearm/wrist. Harden has been struggling lately through the pain of a left wrist injury.

Green admitted the punch after the game, claiming Harden “pinched” him.

“He pinched me so I punched his wrist,” said Green. “He does it often, actually, which is kind of adolescent but whatever.”

The video speaks for itself.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
February 24, 2017 at 12:35 am

On the debut of Lou Williams and Rockets deadline-day trades

Lou Williams Houston Rockets

Sweet Lou is fitting right in.

David Weiner, aka BimaThug, joins me on the podcast as we talk about what we just witnessed — Lou Williams popping off for 27 points in his Houston Rockets debut, a 129-99 thrashing of the Pelicans in New Orleans. We also discuss the trades the Rockets made at the deadline and how that helps the Rockets on the court and better position themselves to add more talent in the very near future.

Posted in Houston Rockets, Podcasts |
February 23, 2017 at 4:13 pm

Daryl Morey says Rockets will rain threes, hints at pursuit of Andrew Bogut

Andrew Bogut Houston Rockets buyout

Needless to say, Daryl Morey has been busy.

The Houston Rockets general manager acquired Lou Williams on Tuesday, then dealt off K.J. McDaniels to the Nets and Tyler Ennis to the Lakers in deals designed to bolster the team’s position in the coming buyout market.

Morey made the rounds after the trade deadline, speaking on both The Vertical’s live broadcast and local radio SportsTalk 790 to discuss the team’s new moves.

Morey said the Rockets weren’t looking to upgrade inside at the trade deadline, but they have something in mind in the buyout market, which was a clear hint that they have their eyes on Andrew Bogut, who is expected to be bought out by Philadelphia.

“We like our bigs rotation,” said Morey. “We really like what Clint (Capela), Nene and Montrezl (Harrell) bring. It wasn’t a big priority (but) there are some players out there in the buyout market.”

Morey said the Rockets will “have the most money of all the contenders” heading into the buyout period, and ESPN’s Marc Stein says the Rockets indeed will pursue Bogut.

As for the Williams deal, according to Morey, the Rockets are embracing who they are with this move, and that’s a three-point shooting and attacking offensive team.

“The top teams in the West, if we beat them, it’s going to be in a barrage of three-pointers,” said Morey. “We feel like we have a great window with (James) Harden and the players we have around him. We think Lou (Williams) is a big part of it. Having him next year is a big factor for us.”

Without mentioning Corey Brewer by name, Morey was pretty clear that he didn’t fit the team’s style.

“One of our big weaknesses up to this point of the season was we did have some folks that weren’t really fitting in terms of the shooting and Lou fits that in a big, big way,” said Morey. “Having shooters around (Harden) at all times, which we will have now, really upgrades his ability to operate in space. We’re really excited about how Lou will upgrade us from that perspective.”

Morey also addressed the talk that Patrick Beverley’s name was rumored to be out there.

“Pat is the heart and soul of our team. He’s got a toughness, an edge and (is) playing unbelievable,” said Morey. “Teams maybe falsely thought with Lou coming in that made Pat more available. That was wrong.”

Posted in Houston Rockets |