James Harden

Top Five: Shooting Guards

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A shooting guard scores the bulk of a team’s points and heavily contributes to his team’s
overall success.  A few days ago, I ranked who I believe are the five best point guards in the NBA.  Now, I will rank who I believe are the best shooting guards.

5.  Stephen Curry- Curry is in his fifth year with the Golden State Warriors.  The 24 year old sharp shooter is averaging 21 points per game, shooting 45.2 percent from three point range.  Curry is the leader of a young, high-powered Golden State team that is on pace to reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-2007 season.

4.  Dwayne Wade- Unfortunately, Wade’s prime is in the past.  The 31 year old has been affected by injuries throughout his career, more notably in the past three years.  However, Wade remains an astonishing player, with two championships on his resumè.  In his 10 year career, Wade is averaging 24.9 points per game along with 6.1 assists and 5 rebounds.  This year, though, Wade is recording his lowest figures since his rookie season.  Come playoff time, Dwayne normally steps-up his game and significantly increases his effort.  Wade and the Miami Heat are first and the Eastern Conference.

3.  Andre Iguodala- In his career, Andre has been averaging 15.2 points per game, 5.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists. In recent years, the two time Olympic gold medalist has not been playing well. This year, he is only scoring 13.4 points per game and does not put up impressive numbers in other categorites.  He may not put up the highest stats, but Andre Iguodala’s presence impacts the game as much as any player in the NBA.  His defensive awareness and all around effort make Iguodala one of the top guards in the league.  Iguodala is leading an uprising Denver Nuggets squad towards the playoffs.

2.  Kobe Bryant- Over the course of his 17 year Hall of Fame career, Bryant is averaging 25.5 points per game, and three of those years he had averaged over 30.  This year, Kobe is putting up 28.1 points per game to go along with 4.3 rebounds.  Plus, Bryant is starting to pass more than shoot.  At a late time in his tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe is beginning to expand his game even more in order to help his team win ball games.  The struggling Lakers are currently four games back of a playoff spot, as Kobe Bryant attempts to give L.A. a late push.

1.  James Harden-  This may come as surprise to most people.  To me, I see no reason as to why Harden is not the best shooting guard in the NBA.  Last year with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Harden was the guy with the beard who had a tacky celebration after hitting a three pointer.  Now, he has the Houston Rockets on track for a playoff spot.  In just months, Harden has adjusted and matured his game.  He went from averaging 16.8 points per game last season to 25.9 this year.  Harden is also averaging 3.5 rebounds per game and 4.4 assists per game.  He may have the team on his shoulders, but with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, James Harden is trying to carry the Rockets to the playoffs for the first time in four years.


Some notable mentions are Paul George and Joe Johnson, but they are yet to establish themselves as dominant guards in the NBA.  The shooting guard is typically the X-Factor in games, but the NBA has been dominated by the small forward position in recent years.  Next, I will rank the top five small forwards in the league.

Drew Agnello

The Rest of the NBA Preview

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year…for basketball fans at least. The 2012 NBA season opens with arguably the most excitement and parity than any other season in the last decade. Dwight Howard’s debut with the Lakers, James Harden’s debut with the Rockets, the resurgence of a new Big 3 in Boston, and the Miami Heat going for a repeat title performance are just a few of the headlines that will be in the spotlight this season. That said, this has the makings of an exciting season. Let’s go ahead a breakdown the biggest questions for each team after first two weeks of NBA action.

Eastern Conference

Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks – Can the Hawks win post-Joe Johnson?

The answer is yes. In fact, the Hawks were able to do some addition by subtraction by unloading Johnson’s huge contract and bringing in some more supporting pieces to surround their dangerous front court of Josh Smith and Al Horford, who is back after missing nearly all of last season. By bringing in Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow and Devin Harris they have filled the void left by Johnson. Lou Williams was arguably one of the best players in the NBA coming off the bench last year, Morrow and Korver provide lethal threats from beyond the arc, and Devin Harris is a spark plug who can pick up the offensive load when necessary.

Prediction: 46-36; 2nd in the Southeast, 6th in the East

Charlotte Bobcats – Will the Bobcats remain in the cellar of the league for another season?

I’ll start by saying that the only NBA game I saw in person last year was a match up between the Bobcats and the Hornets in New Orleans. I wish I could say I felt like I was watching a match-up of two young teams moving in the right direction, but I can’t. The execution was terrible, the offense for both teams looked horrendous, and you could tell both rosters were completely devoid of any talent.  To top it all off, I had to endure watching Boris Diaw playing basketball. This game was on March 12th. They Cats would go on to win just one game after the narrow 73-71 victory over the worst of the West. However, after two games this season, the Bobcats don’t appear poised to be the laughing stock of the league once again.  Kemba Walker has begun to show marked improvement after one season and will need to continue to step up to give the team a lift offensively. Henderson, Haywood, Gordon and Sessions appear to be reliable veterans who can help lead the Cats to some additional victories and Gordon will be need to shoulder some of the load offensively.  Finally, experts and fans a like (myself included in both categories) are gushing over the physical skills and talent of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Look for MKG to be a defensive menace this season while he works on his offensive game.

Prediction: 23-59 ; 4th in the Southeast, 13th in the East

Washington Wizards – Will John Wall finally live up to the hype and his projected potential?

With Wall currently out while recovering from a knee injury, all we can do at this point is speculate as to what Wall can bring to the table this season. It’s beginning to seem like that’s been the case every years since he entered the league. Wall has shown flashes of brilliance and leadership at times, but too often follows it up with lackluster performances. Hopefully Wall comes back this year with a refined shooting stroke, along with more leadership and consistency. Only then can the Wizards begin to start moving in the right direction.

Prediction: 27-55;
3rd in the Southeast, 12th in the East

Orlando Magic – Who will step up as the go-to-guy in Orlando?

For the time being, no one will really be the go to guy in Orlando. The Orlando Magic are not completely devoid of talent as some will make you believe, but this is a team that is a couple years away from finding any sort of identity after the Dwight Howard era. Look for the Magic to do away with their remaining assets this season (JJ Redick’s expiring contract, Glen Davis, Jameer Nelson, or basically anyone else with value left on this team) and start rebuilding. Long story short, it’s going to be a tough year for the Magic.

Prediction: 24 – 58;
4th in the Southeast; 15th in the East

Miami Heat – Can the Heat repeat as champs?

I’ll keep this one short as well by saying, simply, yes. Unless LeBron James suffers some sort of devastating injury or has a catastrophic drop in performance (see 2011 Finals), I don’t see any way that this team doesn’t reach the Finals for the 3rd straight year. There is simply far too much talent on this team. For them not to repeat or at least compete for another title in June would be a disappointment. It will  be up to Eric Spoelstra, LeBron and Dwyane Wade to keep this team focused.

Prediction: 63-19; 1st in the Southeast, 1st in the East


Northwest Division

Dallas Mavericks – Can the new look Mavericks compete in the increasingly stronger Western Conference?

The Mavs this year have possibly the oddest assemblage of talent of any team this season, with inconsistency written all over it. By signing Darren Collison and OJ Mayo, the Mavs have signed two players with so much talent, but a severe lack of consistency. Elton Brand, Vince Carter, and Shawn Marion are each shells of their former selves, and Dirk is not getting any younger or any healthier for that matter. If this team does make the playoffs, I have a feeling they will be limping into it. However, rookie Jae Crowder may be the spark plug necessary to get this team going. They will certainly need strong play from him in order to keep their head above water while Nowitzki is out with injury. NBA fanatics will be sure to keep an eye on the Mavs this year. You should too.

Prediction: 42-40; 3rd in the Southwest, 9th in the West

Denver Nuggets –
Can the Nuggets finally put it all together and go on a deep playoff run?

Despite starting of the year 0-3, Denver has rattled of four straight, making the Nuggets my dark horse team. With arguably the best compilation of young talent in the league, I would not be surprised to see the Nuggets pose a real threat to Los Angeles and Oklahoma City for supremacy in the West. With the progression of Lawson and McGee, the addition of Iguodala (who is still figuring out where he fits in on this team), and the frontcourt combination of Gallinari, Faried, Koufos and Chandler, the Nuggets could potentially finish with the best record in the conference and with their youth, could outmatch some of the aging talent in the West come playoff time.  Look for Lawson to be the X-Factor for this team all season.

Prediction: 54 -28; 2nd in the Northwest, 3rd in the West

Minnesota Timberwolves – Can the Timberwolves stay healthy enough to have a legitimate chance at a playoff spot?

So far this season the Timberwolves have been without their two stars, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. Despite their absence, the Timberwolves have been able to keep their heads above water with a stalwart defense capable of keeping them in close games. This team though has proven to be too injury prone to put all the pieces together at once. I still think this team is a season away from a playoff berth despite their hot start. The West is just too strong this season.

Prediction: 39-43;
4th in the Northwest, 10th in the West

Portland Trailblazers –
Is Damian Lilliard the missing piece the Portland puzzle?

Damian Lilliard has wowed fans thus far this season and appears to be the front-runner for rookie of the year in the first two weeks. His elite play as both a distributor and a scorer gives fans hope for the future in Portland. Don’t be surprised if Portland shows some rapid maturity in the coming months, allowing them to sneak into the playoffs behind the play of LaMarcus Aldridge and Lilliard. On the other hand, their youth and inexperience could lead them to another poor finish in the West.

Prediction: 33-49; 5th in the Northwest, 12th in the West

Oklahoma City Thunder – Can Kevin Martin fill the void left by James Harden?

In terms of point production, Kevin Martin and James Harden are nearly even. But there will certainly be some intangibles that Harden provides that Kevin Martin will lack this season. Harden was able to take pressure off of Westbrook at times with his ability to command the offense from the point. Martin works better in isolation and spotting up for his shot. The pressure will now fall onto Westbrook to be the initiator more often for this team. The growing pains will be there for the Thunder (currently rank 28th in turnovers) but look for the Thunder to hardly skip and beat this season and remain a title contender.

Prediction: 59-23;
1st in the Northwest, 1st in the West

Utah Jazz – Who stays and who goes in the Utah frontcourt?

There’s no doubt the Jazz have a problem on their hands, but in no way is it a bad problem. Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson make up possibly the deepest frontcourt in the entire league. With Favors beginning to live up to expectations and Kanter beginning to show more polish at the center position, look for the Jazz to try to move Millsap or Jefferson before the trade deadline, bringing in perhaps another player at the wing to provide more help offensively for Mo Williams.

Prediction: 46-36; 3rd in the Northwest, 7th in the West

Pacific Division

Sacramento Kings – Where will their next home be?

It seems like a down year again for the Kings, with subpar play on both ends of the court. The Tyreke Evans saga continues as he appears to still be in regression after his rookie season. DeMarcus Cousins still hasn’t learned the lesson of “cooler heads” prevail after his most recent run-in with Sean Elliot, broadcaster for the Spurs. So while the Kings continue to sputter, the biggest question mark is where the Kings will call home in the foreseeable future. Both Virginia and Seattle appear to be the front-runner for the franchise, with the Kings having already been in talks with the governor of Virginia. Basketball purists, however, would love to see the NBA return to Seattle, where there is already a very fervent fan base. In the mean time, look for the Kings to be a bottom feeder of the league this year.

Prediction: 19-63; 5th in the Pacific, 15th in the West

Golden State Warriors – Will Curry and Bogut stay healthy long enough of the Warriors to reach their potential and make the playoffs?

The overall success of this Warrior team will ultimately come down to a pair of ankles, Stephen Curry’s right and Andrew Bogut’s left. Both have proved problematic for both players and this team in the past. Neither has been able to remain on the floor long enough for the team to pick up any momentum and as a result the Warriors have been on the outside looking in for the past 6 seasons. There’s no doubt that this team is talented and, if they can remain healthy, look for them to end their six year playoff drought.

Prediction: 43-39; 3rd in the Pacific; 8th in the West

Los Angeles Clippers – Will the injury to Blake Griffin prove problematic to Lob City?

So far this season, Blake Griffin has shown little signs of his burst bursa sac in his right elbow and his neck strain slowing him down. The fact is, Griffin is one of toughest players in the league and he doesn’t really rely on a deadly shooting stroke to be effective. He still has his legs underneath him and his freakish athleticism. Look for this injury to be a non-issue as the Clippers coast towards the playoffs.

Prediction: 51-31; 2nd in the Pacific, 6th in the West

Los Angeles Lakers – Can the Lakers get all the pieces to fit?

For the sake of having SportsCenter cover something else this season, I hope so. It seems as if everyone but the Lakers is hitting the panic button at this point. The fact is the Lakers will not continue to win 1 out of every 5 games for the remainder of the season. Howard is still trying to find his rhythm with this team, Nash needs to get healthy, and Mike D’Antoni needs to find a way to fit all of these pieces around Kobe Bryant, which will happen as soon as the Lakers get familiar with playing with each other.  Once they do, the rest of the league better watch out.

Prediction: 57-25; 1st in the Pacific, 2nd in the East

Phoenix Suns –Can the Suns find their identity as a team?

The Suns need to figure out what type of team they are in fast. With basically no go to player on this roster, someone needs to step forward if they intend to be in any postion to battle for a playoff spot. The play of Michael Beasley, Jared Dudley and Goran Dragic will make or break this team. If they begin to reach a breaking point, don’t be surprised to see the Suns management hit the panic button and start from scratch.

Prediction: 24-58; 5th in the Pacific, 14th in the West

Southwest Division

Houston Rockets – Is James Harden enough for the Rockets to make a playoff push?

If they gave an MVP trophy after the first 3 games of the season, James Harden would win it. In the fist3 games this season Harden is averaging 35 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists per contest. His numbers have began to steadily decline though since the Rockets hot start, but don’t be surprised to see more stand out play from Harden this season. The rest of the Rockets have had flashes of brilliance as well. Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin have both proved thus far that they may be worth the high price Houston paid for them over the summer. Luckily the season is 82 games long. Look for the Rockets to have some growing pains sometime between now and midseason. That said, the starting five of Lin, Harden, Chandler Parsons, Patterson, and Asik may be just enough to push them into the playoff picture.

Prediction: 34-48; 4th in the Southwest, 11th in the West

Memphis Grizzlies – Will the Grizzlies move Rudy Gay or Zach Randolph at some point this season?

While many critics believe that this is going to be the year that the Grizzlies move Gay or Randolph, I don’t believe that to be the case.  This is a young, talented team with proven veterans and a deep bench with young legs. Zach Randolph is the oldest player on the squad at just 31 and, when healthy, shows little signs of any age. Rudy Gay has continued to emerge as one of the best swing men in the league and Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Marc Gasol’s (arguably one of the best centers in the league) consistent play gives them one of the best starting 5’s in the league. Look for the Grizzlies to possibly push San Antonio out of first in the Southwest and grab a top 3 seed in the playoffs.

Prediction: 52-30;
2nd in the Southwest, 5th in the West

New Orleans Hornets – Can Eric Gordon stay healthy long enough to matter?

We have yet to see to the 23 year old Gordon be able to make it through a full NBA season without some sort of health issue. His games per season has steadily declined each season he’s been in the league, playing only 9 games for the Hornets in the his first season in the Big Easy. It won’t be long before the Hornets begin to think about whether or not Gordon can actually help them long or short term. That said, the Hornets have managed to play well thus far, with strong starts by rookie phenom Anthony Davis, 3rd year player Al-Farouq Aminu, and veteran Ryan Anderson. While the Hornets will certainly have some rough stretches this season, they certainly have a bright future.

Prediction: 28-54; 5th in the Southwest, 13th in the West

Phoenix Suns –Can the Suns find their identity as a team?

The Suns need to figure out what type of team they are in fast. With basically no go to player on this roster, someone needs to step forward if they intend to be in any postion to battle for a playoff spot. The play of Michael Beasley, Jared Dudley and Goran Dragic will make or break this team. If they begin to reach a breaking point, don’t be surprised to see the Suns management hit the panic button and start from scratch.

Prediction: 24-58; 5th in the Pacific, 14th in the West

San Antonio Spurs –
Will the aging Spurs finally show signs of decline?

Poppovich and the Spurs seem to have the winning recipe every single season. This Spurs team appears to have found the fountain of youth year after year after year. Tim Duncan and Ginobili remain consistent night in and night out and Parker is again playing at an MVP caliber.  If Kawhi Leonard continues to steadily improve as well, watch this Spurs team turn heads again this year.

Prediction: 54 – 28;
1st in the Southwest, 4th in the West

Western Conference -1st Round
(1) Thunder over the (8) Warriors in 5.
(2) Lakers over the (9) Jazz in 5.
(3) Nuggets over the (6) Clippers in 7.
(4) Spurs over the (5) Grizzlies in 7.

Eastern Conference – 1st Round
(1) Heat over (8) 76ers in 4.
(2) Knicks over (7) Bulls in 7.
(3) Celtics over (6) Hawks in 5.
(5) Nets over (4) Pacers in 6.

Western Conference Semi-finals
(1) Thunder over (4) Spurs in 7.
(3) Nuggets over (2) Lakers in 7.

Easter Conference Semi-finals
(1) Heat over (5) Nets in 5.
(3) Celtics over (2) Knicks in 6.

Western Conference Finals
(1) Thunder over (3) Nuggets in 6.

Eastern Conference Finals
(1) Heat over (3) Celtics in 7.

NBA Finals Heat over Thunder in 7

Tommy Randolph

Fear the Beard, Seriously

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James Harden is the talk of the NBA.  Last year with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Harden proved to be the best sixth man in the league, heavily contributing to his team’s scoring.  He was a part of a young team that cruised to the Finals last year, but were devastated after losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat.  Harden is a spectacular player.  Some think he is so spectacular that he should have been starting in the Finals.  James was stuck behind the shadows of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook last season.  Yes he was popular, but there is a difference between starting a game and coming off the bench.  Now, the 23 year old has a new home.  James Harden is now the Houston Rockets’ go-to-guy, and is fulfilling his new role.

The Houston Rockets were predicted to finish dead last in the Western Conference this year.  Houston picked up the most hyped player last year in Jeremy Lin, but there was still no hope for the Rockets.  The team appeared as though they would enter an era with a multitude of losing seasons, and with no hope of rebuilding.  Now, fake beards are sweeping Houston as James Harden is leading a once hopeless team, into a team who could possibly make the playoffs.  Harden has the ropes in his hand, and is doing what he has to do to turn the Houston Rockets into a winning team.

James Harden has established himself as a truly elite player in the NBA.  He hits clutch three pointers and can control any game at his own pace.  He is a 23 year old playing like an experienced veteran.  It is simply jaw-dropping.  Harden played as well as he possibly could have in last year’s playoffs.  When the Thunder reached the Finals, however, James showed his immaturity. He missed shot after shot, made stupid decisions, and even missed a breakaway layup.  He was choking, and it was hard to watch. However, that was then, and this is now. Fresh off of a gold medal win in the London Olympics, Harden is more wise, and is playing the game at a higher level.  In three seasons in Oklahoma City, Harden scored over 30 points in only three games.  After eight games in Houston,  he has scored 30 or more points in three games.  James Harden is downright scary to a defense.  He can attack the rim and finish strong, or pull it out and drain a three.  Not only can he score, but he is one of the quickest players in the league and can dart past almost any player.  James Harden has clearly seized and taken the opportunity to lead a team like Houston.

All in all, Harden is just a kid.  A kid with a grizzly beard and talent like no other.  Kids adore him for the beard and his signature look when he scores a deep three.  Harden leans over and puts down three fingers while sticking his tongue out while jogging down the floor.  His inner child shows, but it all contributes to his momentum and on-court swagger.  It seems like basketball analysts across the country critique Harden so harshly.  They forget he is so young because of how well he plays.  This is a man who is already a good player, but could become a great player.  Over the next few years, James Harden will blossom and be a threat to anyone in the world.  To all NBA teams, Fear the Beard.

Drew Agnello