National Basketball Association

James Harden's star is rising in Brooklyn, as Charles Barkley piles on praise

March 25

The NBA might have a new king of the court, in Charles Barkley's opinion.

James Harden has been on fire since his trade to the Brooklyn Nets, and Barkley rated the 31-year-old guard ahead of the likes of LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo on ESPN's "Greeny" show.

"Right now ⁠— no disrespect to LeBron, or Giannis or anybody ⁠— James Harden might be the best basketball player in the world. Period."

There's no denying Harden's offensive prowess. 

He has made nine consecutive All-Star Games and is the NBA's scoring champion for three years running.

Since moving to Brooklyn in a January blockbuster, he has averaged 25.4 points, 11.5 assists and 8.7 rebounds per game. Those latter two statistics are on pace to be career highs. 

While Harden's offensive credentials are well-documented, one knock that's dogged him has been his defensive indifference.

Barkley addressed those concerns, too, while also crediting Harden's ability to pilot the Nets largely without consistent help of Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving.

"He has adapted and changed. He is a little bit better defensively. But for them to win games without KD and without Kyrie, you've got to give that man some credit."

The Nets started the season 7-6 prior to acquiring Harden.

Since the trade, the Nets are 23-7 when Harden plays and find themselves battling the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Naturally, Barkley's high praise drew the attention of other pundits. On "Undisputed," Skip Bayless offered his account of watching Harden's performances this season.

"For perimeter offensive players, he's the greatest I've ever seen. ... I am mesmerized watching this man control basketball games for the Nets. Because without KD ... he's 16-5. [In 7] games with no Kyrie, he's [5-2.] So, that's why I say MVP."

Bayless' thoughts on Harden's greatness echoed Barkley's, who name-dropped a pair of legendary guards when discussing "The Beard."

Here's more from Barkley:

"He is the most awesome offensive player I've ever seen. Listen, Michael [Jordan] and Kobe [Bryant] were better players from a guard standpoint, but as far as offensively, they couldn’t shoot 3s like him. They were not as great at dribbling the basketball or going to the basket and getting fouled. Every time he goes to the basket, he’s going to hit somebody and get two free throws." 

Speaking of getting to the free-throw line, Colin Cowherd said he sees that dependency as a drawback for Harden when the stakes are at their highest.

"He's a dominant regular-season player. He's not as dominant in the postseason. And my belief has always been, [it's] because he doesn't get the whistle in the playoffs. Referees get out of the way. ... Harden's game is built for the whistle. So was Karl Malone's, except in the playoffs."

Since James Harden joined the Brooklyn Nets, the team has been enjoying a good amount of success in the regular season, but Colin Cowherd doesn't see that success extending into the NBA Playoff season. Charles Barkley questioned as to whether Harden would be as dominant in the post-season, and Colin raises the point that Harden's game, like Karl Malone, relies on the whistle. Hear why Colin believes Harden & Nets may have trouble in the playoffs

It's true, Harden isn't the same player in the postseason, from a numbers perspective.

His regular-season statistics – 25.2 points, 6.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds – drop to 23.5 points, 5.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds in the postseason.

Slight dips, but dips nevertheless.

And assuming the Nets make the postseason this year, Harden will need to be more than a one-man band to hoist his first Larry O'Brien Trophy, according to Stephen A. Smith of "First Take."

"He's having a stellar year. But, in order to beat LeBron and AD ... I'm going to be positive and think they're going to be healthy. There's nobody outside of Brooklyn that's going to beat the Los Angeles Lakers. And the only way Brooklyn is going to beat the Los Angeles Lakers is if Kevin Durant is healthy."

A championship would go a long way toward cementing Harden's status as one of the game's greats, and would certainly help validate Barkley's assertion of Harden being the best player on the planet.

Harden has proven it time and time again in the regular season. Time to see if he can carry that influence to the next level.

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