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Mazzeo: James Harden is more than just numbers

Brooklyn Nets v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

James Harden’s numbers since joining the Nets are astounding. He’s averaging 25.5 points, 11.4 assists and 8.7 rebounds with a shooting line of 56/42/85 and eight, count ‘em, eight triple doubles in 23 games. Even though the “Big Three” has started only six games out of 37, they are on track for the best offensive rating in NBA history!

In fact, ALL the punditry on him was wrong. Dribble, dribble, dribble, they said, suggesting there was no way he and Kyrie Irving —and Kevin Durant, when healthy— could share one basketball. And they laughed when Harden responded to a question about what he brought to the Nets, with this: “an elite player, elite teammate, elite leader.”

As Mike Mazzeo, writing for Forbes Sports Money, notes, he wasn’t lying about any of it, particularly about the last two parts of that answer.

He’s provided much-needed vocal leadership, unafraid to confront his teammates and call them out when necessary.

Harden may have quit on Houston, but he’s clearly motivated by his critics in Brooklyn — displaying a willingness to put the team first in pursuit of the championship that has eluded him during his future Hall of Fame career...

Harden’s presence has also provided a calming influence on Irving, league sources said. The backcourt duo has gotten along very well, which has been extremely important with Durant out due to a left hamstring strain.

And no, that wasn’t the way he always acted in Houston, but now, whether chastened by the disappointment he felt with the Rockets, or being freed from being “The Man” in Brooklyn, he’s displayed MVP-level leadership.

Mazzeo quotes a league source this way: “in Brooklyn, he’s not making it about himself. He’s been very humble and gracious, making plays for others. And he’s done a phenomenal job keeping himself in check.”

Others too. The best example was the Detroit game, a loss, that everyone points to as the turning point of the season. In that game, DeAndre Jordan simply wasn’t getting it done as John Schuhmann tweeted mid-game.

Not long after, Harden was seen on the YES Network offering Jordan some, uh, advice.

As one of Mazzeo’s sources told him...

“Somebody had to say something. Joe Harris couldn’t say it. Kyrie Irving couldn’t say it. But James has been holding his teammates accountable. Enough was enough. DJ screwed up, and James let him know it. It’s that combination of brutal honesty, and then he’s performing at an MVP level. There’s no comeback for that other than to say, ‘You’re right.’”

Harden injected his personality and chatter into the locker room, Mazzeo argues, suggesting that his leadership is different, respected and needed.

Highly-respected veteran Jeff Green had previously been the one speaking up when times got tough. Durant can be blunt — and is also capable of raising his voice given his gravitas and resume — though he’s not known as a vocal leader, and often feeds off of conflict. Now, in Harden, there’s another influential voice in the locker room.

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that at least until KD comes back, as Harden goes, so go the Nets. He is, as Irving noted, the point guard. And a legitimate candidate for the MVP ... for everything he’s brought to Brooklyn.

“The ultimate goal is to compete for a championship and win a championship,” Harden said during All-Star weekend. “That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to come to Brooklyn. I think everybody in this organization feels the same way.”

And if they don’t, he’ll remind them.