Could the Houston Rockets Have Still Been a Playoff Team without James Harden Acquistition?

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October 24, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard Kevin Martin (12) shoots against the New Orleans Hornets during the first half of a preseason game at the New Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Rockets have been one of the biggest surprise success stories of the 2012-13 NBA season, and it’s a feel good tale that centers around a jolly man with a big bushy beard who barrels his way to the basket en route to the league’s fifth best scoring average, while his team bolsters itself back into the playoffs for the first time since the days of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.

But the subplot here is equally as interesting. What I would like you to consider is the scenario that the Rockets could have been nearly as good and equally as surprising if they had never obtained Harden from Oklahoma City to begin with.

The disclaimer must be made that I am a huge James Harden fan. I possess a “Fear the Beard” hoodie and iPhone cover. But as good as Harden has been, I don’t believe it is just his substantial improvement that has rendered the Rockets as a playoff team in the rugged Western Conference.

Harden has increased his scoring average nearly 10 points per game, and he’s drastically outproducing anything Kevin Martin did, but the question is whether or not the Rockets truly need Harden to dominate their offense so heavily.

Harden has the ninth highest usage rate in the NBA, and Jeremy Lin has had his best games of the season while Harden has been sidelined.

For as much as Harden brings to the team, the prospect is there that the Rockets could have been equally successful had they proceeded through this season with Kevin Martin as their starting shooting guard.