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One-on-one skills

James Harden called a better player than Kobe Bryant by Sports Illustrated, NBA executives

Houston Rockets, Lakers, James Harden, January 2013
Sports Illustrated argues that James Harden is a better one-on-one player than Kobe Bryant. Houston Rockets/Facebook
Houston Rockets, Lakers, James Harden, January 2013
Kobe Bryant upset

James Harden's move to Houston has certainly opened up people's eyes to the wonders of The Beard.

Sports Illustrated has named Harden the NBA's third Greatest One-on-One Player, behind only karaoke master LeBron James and Chris Paul. And far ahead of one Kobe Bryant.

Bryant finishes last on the list of eight, which was compiled by SI with input from league executives and scouts. In other words, the people who should know best.

 Morey referred to Harden as "a top five halfcourt player" at the introductory news conference. 

The fact that the 34-year-old Bryant is not the same player he once was, despite his 29.2 points per game scoring average, is no great news. Kobe getting passed by was obvious by the All-Star break last season.

But the Harden love has plenty to do with the increased freedom he's enjoyed as a Houston Rocket.

No matter how highly league executives thought of him before, it's hard to imagine them having the guts to place Harden higher than Kobe — and Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook — if he was still coming off the bench in Oklahoma City.

Sports Illustrated calls Harden "deceptively quick" and "fearless when finishing at the rim." None of this comes as a surprise to Rockets general manager Daryl Morey of course. Morey referred to Harden as "a top five halfcourt player" at No. 13's introductory news conference. And he didn't back down on that view when I questioned him on it.

Even though his shooting percentage has dipped in his new life as a No. 1 option, Harden's efficiency remains high. He averages 25.9 points per game while taking 17.8 field goal attempts per game. That's fewer shots than Kobe (22.1 FGA per game), Carmelo Anthony (21.9 FGA) and even Harden's former teammate Westbrook (18.9) are chucking up.

And Harden plays for a team without a clear second option, one he could easily completely hog the ball with if he so desired. Harden will be named to his first All-Star team Thursday night and that stage will give him another chance to show off his one-on-one skills.

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