4th and a Mile with Paul Muth

Let's examine just how irreplaceable James Harden is to the Rockets

The numbers are very telling. Photo by Pool/Getty Images.

It's been a tumultuous offseason to say the least for the Rockets. One person's pain is another's pleasure, however. While the front office of the Toyota Center stresses out over their disgruntled superstar, NBA fans in general have been eating up the drama—buffet style (assuming those are still a thing).

As of right now, two things are fairly certain:

  1. James Harden wants out of Houston.
  2. This entire ordeal is entertaining as hell.

The Rockets' front office has stated publicly that they're in no hurry to trade their superstar. It's a sound strategy considering the leverage that they hold—at least for the moment. Contractually, they're in the driver's seat. That doesn't mean that players are completely powerless in these situations, as Kawhi Leonard proved to the Spurs in 2017. So it's at least worth it for the Rockets to show some good faith.

The problem lies with the trade itself. Let's get one thing straight: the Rockets will not win any trade they complete. Period. It's important to understand that ahead of time, and we're going to explore why.

There's an analytics metric in the basketball nerd-verse known as "win shares." The goal of win shares is to quantify just how much an individual contributed to each win. The nuts and bolts can be explored here, but all you have to know for the purposes of this argument is that it's one of several metrics that tells you how valuable a player is.

So I put my nerd hat on and headed over to stathead.com to see just how valuable Harden has been to the Rockets' success. I knew he would rank fairly high among the league's elite players, but I wanted to nail it down. So I searched for total win shares from the 2012-2013 season (when Harden was traded to the Rockets) to now.

I was right:

1James Harden114.1
2LeBron James103.1
3Kevin Durant91.3
4Chris Paul91.2
5Stephen Curry89.7


What that is saying is that no player has contributed more to their team's success than Harden. LeBron has obviously contributed, but he's also been aided by great players that contribute their own sizeable win shares.

What this metric also proves is just how impossible it is to replace Harden. Whatever trade you're completing won't be even. Whoever gets Harden wins that trade.

The most intriguing trade suggested so far would be for the Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons. Adjusting the comparison for the amount of time that Simmons has been (healthy) in the league, the number still isn't close:

Win Shares (2017-2020)
James Harden43.7
Ben Simmons24.4

I get it, they're at different stages in their careers and one of them wasn't forced to carry their team like the other. But Harden almost doubles Simmons in win shares and that's hard to ignore.

The counterargument is that the Rockets would be looking for a massive pile of draft picks. Picks are nice in theory, but picks don't average 34 points per game. The NBA Draft is such a crap shoot that in 2013 back-to-back reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo went 15th overall. The first pick? Anthony Bennett, who was out of the league after 4 years.

The Rockets find themselves in an incredibly unenviable position of moving one of the best players in the league. Losing Harden will be a massive blow to the franchise. What remains to be seen is just how severe it is.

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Davis Mills didn't see much action on Saturday. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans played their first preseason game and turned in a winning effort. Here are 11 observations from the victory.

1. The initial and early offense felt scarily familiar to last season. It seemed like vanilla was the emphasis, but a negative play doomed the Texans on each of the Davis Mills led drives. This is an offense in training camp that has overcome bad plays, that wasn’t the case Saturday night.

2. Penalties showed up in force for the Texans. I disagreed with a handful of them, but it is clear there needs to be a little more work on these. It also could be simply the referee emphasis as well. The officials at practice have called offensive pass interference, and Chris Moore got dinged Saturday for that. The team currently doesn’t have the talent to regularly overcome a holding or other offensive penalty.

3. I’m not going to read too much into the first-team offense or the defense. Too many players who will play in games didn’t play in this one. I tend to focus more on individuals than teams in these situations.

4. Jalen Pitre has a nose for the football. It looked like almost every Baylor game out there from his college career. The safety was in on what felt like every play. It will be exciting to watch him assess his game film and build on it. Lovie Smith mentioned how important it was for players to get their first game out of the way. Well, mark that step down for Pitre.

5. Blake Cashman flashed plenty. His athletic deflection on a long-third down throw was a lovely play. He was getting his nose into a lot of the action as well. Cashman has a chance to make this team as linebacker depth. If he can build off the success from Saturday, he will be in a position to make the final roster.

6. Kurt Hinish is a name you may not know just yet. His name is worth learning though. The undrafted defensive tackle from Notre Dame has flashed in camp and he sacked his old teammate Ian Book on Saturday night. Roy Lopez and Maliek Collins are the team’s two defensive tackles, but there is room for someone like Hinish. I don’t believe he would make it to the practice squad.

7. Rookie defensive lineman Thomas Booker had some nice plays. He hasn’t stood out much in training camp to this point. It isn’t out of the question he is on the roster bubble, but there’s still time to find his way.

8. Jalen Camp scored a touchdown and did the crane celebration as a nod to teammate John Metchie who is dealing with cancer. Camp had a few flashes in training camp, but it isn’t consistent. There is an opportunity for a couple of wideouts, but nobody has separated to the point where I can say they have for sure earned the spots on the depth chart.

9. Dameon Pierce wowed on Saturday. It was great to watch the rookie rip off big physical runs. Pierce will be a factor for the Texans in 2022. The consistency of his work will determine how much of a factor. He is exciting, more than Marlon Mack, and if the team starts to trust him more, he has the talent to make it pay off for the Texans.

10. The special teams looks like it might be one of the best aspects of this team. Cam Johnston can absolutely BOOM the ball as a punter and could be one of the best in the league. The coverage on kicks was very good. This is something that will have to be great for the Texans as this is still a team that lives in the margins.

11. I’d guess the second preseason game will look a little closer to what the third preseason game used to look like. A little more from the expected starters would be a welcome sight. I would like to see a little more Davis Mills and a few more of the top players in the game for a stretch and see if Pep Hamilton wants to get a bit more creative.

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