James Harden's rising star power

Houston guard has become a franchise player who ranks among NBA's elite

Updated: February 11, 2013, 2:13 PM ET
By Joe Kaiser | ESPN Insider
James HardenRick Osentoski/US PresswireJames Harden's elite production has become an everyday occurrence.

Let's get hypothetical for a second. Your team is down by one point with 15 seconds to play in a decisive Game 7. The home crowd sits nervously in stunned silence. As the coach, you call a timeout and draw up a play to get the ball in the hands of the one player who can hit the game-winning shot.

If you could choose any current player, who would it be?

Do you turn to Kobe Bryant? Or do you get the ball in the hands of LeBron James? Is Kevin Durant your guy? And what about Carmelo Anthony? A strong argument could be made for each of them. Now, pretend for a second that none of those guys are available. Who then would you depend on with the game on the line?

As hard as it might have been to believe a year or two ago, there may not be a better answer to that question than James Harden (no, we didn't forget about Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce). The point is, this should illustrate just how good Harden's been in his first season with the Houston Rockets.

Earlier this season, Trendwatch pointed out that Harden's transformation into a "go-to" guy followed his trend of constantly attacking, which has allowed him to get to the free throw line, a trademark of any player whose team relies on him to produce a bulk of the scoring.

But it isn't like Harden came out of nowhere. He was regarded highly enough to be drafted No. 3 overall in 2009 and went on to become one of the game's best reserves during his highlight-filled tenure in Oklahoma City.

What's shocking, though, is the rapid manner in which he transformed from a player who started just seven games in three seasons with the Thunder into one of the game's brightest young stars with the Rockets.

Because make no mistake, that's just what he's become -- a star.

Joe Kaiser

Fantasy, Insider