Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best performances in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.
King of the Court: James Harden
Easily the best player comparison for James Harden is Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Harden plays at different tempos on the court, but they’re all deliberate, much in the way that Mariah lulls you gently in the first minute before letting you know the song’s about to turn into a complete banger. ’Tis the season to enjoy the wonders of both works nonstop. Sure, they’re both overexposed this time of year, but for good reason: THEY. ARE. HITS.
It’d be easy to resist anointing Harden King of the Court once again purely out of desire for new blood. But since his shift to point guard at the beginning of the season, Harden has averaged 28.1 points, 11.6 assists, and 7.6 rebounds on 51.6 percent effective field goal shooting (which accounts for the fact that 3-pointers are 1.5 times more valuable than 2s). On Monday, in a 122–118 win over a surprisingly competent Nets team that had Jeremy Lin back, Harden had 36 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds, adding to the eight games this season in which he missed a triple-double by only three boards or fewer. (He’s still sitting on four triple-doubles on the season.)
Harden’s dish to Eric Gordon for 3 with 1:47 left tied the game at 116 apiece, and the Rockets wouldn’t trail for the rest of the game. The Beard’s dime-heavy night pushed him past Eric “Sleepy” Floyd for seventh on Houston’s all-time assists leaderboard, with 2,368. It was expected that the position switch would bump his assist average, but Harden has exceeded all reasonable predictions. Now 25 games into the season, Harden continues to lead the league in assists per game at 11.6, more than double his career average prior to this season.
Coach Mike D’Antoni has taken the “Moreyball” style of play to new heights, and the revival of his sweet shooting system is largely due to Harden’s unique ability to facilitate. Over 40 percent of his assists lead to 3-pointers. The Rockets have won seven straight, and it’s all thanks to their offense. Houston is second in the league in scoring, trailing only a group of superstars in the Bay Area that would intimidate even Mariah.
Runner-up: Myles Turner
Myles Turner is the joy of the Pacers organization, whose only other star talent has long been the center of trade rumors and murmurs about opt-outs. In Turner’s second season, playing six more minutes per game than he did as a rookie, he’s bettered himself in nearly every standard statistical category. In a 110–94 win over the Hornets on Monday, Indiana made 17 3-pointers, a season high, with four coming from the 20-year-old in his 22-point, seven-rebound, and four-block evening.
It was Turner’s final 3 that shut down Charlotte’s last hopes of a comeback.
Turner averages only 1.5 attempts from 3 per game, so it’s still a bit of a mystery as to whether he’s actually a solid threat from deep, but his 4-for-7 performance from behind the arc Monday night must’ve been validation enough for Larry Bird, who once called Turner the team’s “best shooter” before Myles played a second of NBA basketball. Turner is a rare breed who is capable of shooting 3s and swatting shots at an equal clip. Anyone who can match four blocks with four 3s deserves royal acknowledgment, especially when the blocks come late in a close game and look like this:
Honorable Mention: Terrence Ross
When the Bucks cut a 26-point Raptors lead to 10 by the start of the fourth quarter, Terrence Ross, of all players, decided to take the game into his own hands. In a two-minute span, Ross scored 10 consecutive points for the Raptors, who went on to win 122–100 on Monday. Then, to cap it all off, he went for a windmill dunk. And then this happened, and I forgot about all of the good things.
Ross was this close to princedom, but today, he is our jester.