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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Houston loses in San Francisco

Astros drop back-and-forth middle game to Giants to even series

Houston's offense couldn't keep up with the Giants on Saturday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With the impressive win in the opener to start the series, the Astros entered Saturday's middle game against the Giants with an opportunity to not just secure the series but surpass San Francisco for the best record in the league. They'd have to wait to take that crown, as the Giants would out-slug the Astros to even the series.

Final Score: Giants 8, Astros 6

Astros' Record: 64-41, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jay Jackson (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Blake Taylor (2-3)

Teams trade blows early, Giants chase Greinke out early

The teams traded blows early in this one, with the Giants tagging Zack Greinke with six runs, all on homers. The first was a solo shot in the bottom of the second to start the scoring before hitting one in each inning through the fourth: two-run blasts in the third and fourth, then a go-ahead solo shot in the bottom of the fifth, putting them ahead 6-5 at the time. Greinke would face one more batter, allowing a single to end his lackluster day: 4.0 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4 HR, 93 P.

Houston's offense kept things close to try and keep Greinke in a position to win, going up 3-1 in the third on a two-run Aledmys Diaz homer and another coming in on an error. After San Francisco scored four unanswered to make it 5-3, Diaz homered again in the top of the fifth to cut the deficit to one run before Yuli Gurriel would tie it with an RBI double.

Astros stay in it, but Giants even the series by winning the slug-fest

With Greinke exiting with no outs in the fifth, Houston handed the ball to Phil Maton, acquired in the recent Myles Straw trade, to make his debut for his new team. He worked himself into a jam, allowing a single and hitting a batter to load the bases with one out, but was able to get back-to-back strikeouts to strike out the side and strand all three runners, keeping it a one-run game.

That proved pivotal in the top of the sixth, as with two outs, Martin Maldonado would launch a game-tying solo homer, making it 6-6. Blake Taylor took over out of the bullpen in the bottom of the inning but would face just three batters, getting two outs while leaving one on as Dusty Baker moved on to Cristian Javier. Javier would watch the Giants retake the lead, getting back-to-back singles to bring in a run and make it 7-6.

Javier stayed in the game in the bottom of the seventh, allowing a leadoff single but erasing it by striking out the next three batters. Still a 7-6 game in the bottom of the eighth, Yimi Garcia made his Astros debut but did not keep the score there, allowing a leadoff solo homer to make it a two-run game. The 8-6 score would go final as Houston's offense came up empty again in the top of the ninth, setting up a rubber game in the finale.

Up Next: The series finale will get underway at 3:05 PM Central on Sunday in San Francisco. Luis Garcia (7-5, 3.19 ERA) will take the mound for Houston, going opposite Logan Webb (4-3, 3.36 ERA) for the Giants.

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