James Harden might not win the Most Valuable Player award, but he is the most transformative player of 2017 thanks to Mike D'Antoni's tinkering. After he took the Rockets job, D’Antoni got rid of the middleman, consolidated his best scorer and passer into an innovative role, then threw Houston's offense into warp drive.
Courtesy of that mad science, Harden has been weaponized into the NBA's shark with friggin' laser beams attached to his head. He led the league in points per game while finishing second in points, despite being unassisted on a career-high 82 percent of his field goals. His ceremonial position shift this season allowed the Rockets to detach from the binary of utilizing a distributor alongside a wing scorer in the lineup.
From the early '90s through the 2000s, combo guards were sculpted in Allen Iverson's image. Quick, tweener shooting guards such as Baron Davis, Monta Ellis, Ben Gordon, Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford and Dion Waiters became the norm. In 2009, The Beard was a 6'5" combo guard blessed with a 6'11" wingspan. He’s been great for a while, but his reinvention from shooting guard to point guard is the ideal archetype for the combo guard clan.
Positionless basketball allows forwards to interlope along the lines of both forward and center. The Rockets exploited the synergy between Harden and a second combo guard. Putting Eric Gordon or Lou Williams beside Harden has been a deadlier conundrum for defenses than facing a double-bladed sword at a knife fight.
For the NBA's copycat coaches, it's only a matter of time until Harden's positional fluidity becomes a template for other teams. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo is a unicorn who struggles to score outside the paint, therefore he can't be replicated. Harden can, with varying degrees of success. It was just a matter of showing the league it could be done.
These are the guards who could be tempted to play the Harden "transguard" role next season.