Now that most NBA teams have made their final roster moves for the offseason, one star player might still be on the move. James Harden is still trying to leave Houston and has expanded his list of potential teams. Those teams now include the Nets, 76’ers, Bucks and Heat. Knowing they are one of the few teams he is willing to play for, should the Bucks try pulling the trigger?
The Price for Harden
In all likelihood the Rockets will require a very steep price. They’d be looking for a borderline star, young talent, and draft picks for any team to acquire him. With the Bucks’ current cap situation, there’s really only one trade that could work. The package would include Middleton, DiVencenzo, Wilson, and potentially whatever draft picks the Bucks still have to offer.
Per ESPN’s trade machine, this would give the Bucks 8 more projected wins than with how the team is currently constructed. Creating a big three of Giannis, Harden and Jrue on paper sounds lethal. Factor in that Harden is under contract for at least 3 more years and that could tempt the Bucks even further. With all that said, let’s dive in to the pros and cons of this move.
Harden’s Fit on Offense
Going into this offseason the Bucks were out to get a shot-creating point guard that will deliver in the playoffs and take pressure off of Giannis. Harden is definitely one who fits that mold. Opposing teams would have to obviously respect the perimeter where Harden is along with his driving skills. This could create many opportunities for Giannis to have his way down low.
The issue is that with Harden running the point, he often possesses the ball far more than anyone else on the court. His offensive game is predicated on him dribbling until either the defense commits to him and leaves someone open. Or he will dribble until he has room to get off a shot or the shot clock is about to expire. This makes the team’s success greatly depend on Harden each game. If Giannis or any other player is having an off night, the Bucks can usually overcome this due to the offense not depending on one particular player. Essentially Harden is not known for playing off the ball well and likely would dominate the touches.
Harden is the best scorer in the game volume-wise, and there’s a reason for that. The last two years combined he has averaged about 13 three point attempts per game. And made approximately 36% of those. For context, Steph Curry during his two MVP campaigns averaged about 10 3 point attempts and made around 45% those years. My main issue with Harden is that on nights where he clearly doesn’t have the shot going, he will continue to force it. Often resulting in wasted possessions and having games where he’ll go 2-13 from three or worse. This hurts his team so much because the ball never moved to give another player an opportunity to score first.
The Fit on Defense
Now we’ve all heard how Harden doesn’t play defense. We’ve all seen the lowlights on TV. However quietly over the past couple seasons Harden has stepped it up. He’s always been good at steals but he has improved other aspects of his game lately as well. It seems to be that Harden’s defensive woes are directly attributed to his effort, not his talent. When he is fully engaged he can play very solid defense on almost any player. Other times he might totally fall asleep at the wheel. Maybe it’s because of being focused on the offensive end and trying to conserve energy on defense, all we know is he has the ability to play.
Within the resulting lineup most of Harden’s defensive woes can be made up for by the rest of the team. With three All-NBA defensive players on the floor they can make up for a lot of mistakes. The Bucks could put Jrue on the opposition’s best guard and let Harden handle the other while keeping Giannis and Lopez near by to defend the rim of someone slipped by. All in all I believe the Bucks could make it work on defense.
Locker Room Chemistry
If James Harden has taught us anything in the past, it’s that it is hard for him to keep other star teammates happy. The two best examples of that are Chris Paul and Russel Westbrook. Westbrook was said to be Harden’s best friend and yet he wanted out after one season with Harden. After a few seasons CP3 had enough of Harden and wanted out as well. The last thing the Bucks want to do is do anything that would cause Giannis to not want to stay.
Getting rid of good team players like Middleton and DiVincenzo and adding someone known for being opposite could be detrimental. Especially since Middleton is one of Giannis’ best friends. This move only gets done if Giannis gives the front office the approval and commits to signing his extension. Without that commitment this is too big of a gamble.
Harden could prove us all wrong and change his ways but there is no way to know that’ll be the case. The Bucks would need to be sure Harden will spread the ball and not shoot 25 times per game. If Harden is truly committed to doing what’s best for the team, the deal might work. Considering the ugly history between he and Giannis, I doubt the Bucks make this move. But it’s always fun to imagine the possibilities!
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