HOUSTON -- If Mike D’Antoni’s offense has produced one thing, it’s probably the favorite for the MVP award.
James Harden scored a career-high 53 points in 42 minutes of work Saturday night and became the first man in league history -- think about that for a moment -- to have at least 50 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists in an NBA game.
“He’s one of the great players of all time. He ranks right up there with the best,” Rockets owner Leslie Alexander told ESPN. “I mean, nobody has ever done this before. The other team is playing hard and doing everything they could to stop him, and they couldn’t. He's a fantastic player.”
Harden became just the fifth player in league history to record a triple-double while scoring at least 50 points. The others are impressive names: Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady.
The numbers for Harden in D’Antoni’s offense are staggering. On Saturday, he had a triple-double after three quarters. At one point, Harden’s stat line read 50-15-15. Harden’s 53 points tied Wilt Chamberlain for the most in a triple-double in league history.
“When I look at it, it is unbelievable,” Harden said. “This season so far has been unbelievable. The chemistry, the wins feel really, really good. Just the vibe around here helps for us to go out on the court and have fun with each other.”
Harden has been better than expected by those who really don’t know the type of player he is. Harden has always been an excellent passer, and now, with him the full-time point guard, his passing abilities are becoming more appreciated.
His 17 assists Saturday marked the 27th time he has had a game with double-digit assists. It’s becoming harder and harder to put Harden’s season in perspective because of what he’s accomplishing on the floor.
“He’s good,” D’Antoni said with a smile when talking about his point guard.
This isn’t to diminish what Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, DeMarcus Cousins or even Anthony Davis is doing. Those players are superstars, but Harden is making sure his name remains among the elite.
D’Antoni’s offense allows Harden to make plays on drives to the basket when he has the option of kicking out passes or keeping the ball. He also can run pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop plays with Anderson and Capela. The success of the outside shooters -- Anderson had 25 points and Gordon 15 against the Knicks -- gives Harden the confidence to attempt more passes because he believes his teammates will make plays.
“It feels great,” Harden said. “[D’Antoni] gives me so much freedom -- maybe too much when I turn the basketball over [he had eight Saturday], maybe too much. It happens. I try risky passes just to let my teammates know I’m going to throw you the ball. It might not get there every time -- that’s what keeps them going to run the floor and being able to shoot it. It’s been a dream so far.”
Two seasons ago, Harden finished second to Curry in the MVP voting. Last season, he wasn’t a top candidate and didn’t get named to any of the three All-NBA teams.
Based on what he has done this season, he might be at the top of the list of MVP contenders.
“With our wins, he should be,” Alexander said.