– Fifteen of Harden’s 17 points came alongside bench-heavy lineups
– The Clippers were minus-13 during the 18 minutes their starting unit played
– Harden lost in his debut on a new team, the Los Angeles Clippers, for the first time in his NBA career
James Harden’s NBA career has spanned 15 seasons, five teams and more than 1,000 games, leaving little room for inaugural moments. However, on Monday night, inside Madison Square Garden, the future Hall of Fame guard made his debut for the Los Angeles Clippers and hoped for a five-peat. Instead, the Clippers crumbled in the final frame and fell to the New York Knicks, 111-97. Harden turned in an efficient, effective game with 17 points, six dimes, three boards and one steal. Questions regarding Harden should center on his fit with Los Angeles rather than his own talent. In year five of the Kawhi Leonard–Paul George Era, the Clippers are aiming to harmonize, stay healthy, and finally nab that elusive Larry O’Brien Trophy.
The shift began before Harden, but his arrival completed it. For the second time, Harden is joined in the starting lineup by Russell Westbrook following their one-year partnership together in Houston. Both are ball-dominant creators, but the Clippers are aiming to find ways to maximize Harden and the entire offense, as he will likely be their point guard, not Westbrook. Juggling the skills and limitations of each player will be essential, as Westbrook’s played some good basketball since joining the Clippers, and they still see value in starting both of them.
Overall, the Clippers need to find ways to create offensive options that take advantage of Harden’s strengths while mitigating the weaknesses of their other players. They will need to build a versatile, savvy and pointed playbook that will allow Harden to maximize his fellow stars and help the team to reach their full potential. Even with new opportunities and challenges arising, Harden gives Los Angeles another level to reach and his debut illuminated shades of that next level. Now, the responsibility lies in the precise execution to maximize his potential.