James Harden Must Remedy His Game for Rockets to Thrive

By Brett David Roberts

May 2, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) contorts his body after being fouled by Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) in the first half in game six of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center.Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

One major cause for concern in 2013-14 was the over reliance on All-Star shooting guard James Harden. The ugly pimple came to its head in the playoffs, when Harden chucked up 35 field goals, connecting on just 13. He managed 37 points, but it wasn’t an efficient game, nor a particularly good one.

He shot just 39 percent in the playoffs from 3-to-10 feet, favoring an all or nothing inside/outside attack.  That percentage should be at least six points higher.  Harden often favored ill-fated fadeaways from the three-point arc.  I’d be hard pressed to deliver an exact percentage on that exact shot, but it couldn’t have been higher than 20.  When players are taking shots like that, it insults his teammates.  Trust me.

This cannot be the case if the team is to step forward. And Chandler Parsons’ offensive output must be replaced. The hope is that Harden does not take this entire load on his shoulders. His usage rate was the 9th highest in the NBA and for the second season straight he played over 38 minutes a game.

The depth at guard isn’t really present to reduce Harden’s minutes, if matters are honestly assessed. And while Jeremy Lin may not have been worth the contract, he was still good production off the bench and had a number games he stepped up in.

Harden shot just 38 percent form the floor in the playoffs, and he was a horrendous 29 percent from three-point range. His defensive intensity is nil, and became a laughing stock of the league when a YouTube video was compiled showing his utter lack of effort.

Rockets fans already begrudgingly knew Harden gives up on plays, and the video featured a number of his matedorian-like defensive moves. There was even a sarcastic vote by a media figure for Harden to make the All-Defensive team.

The truth is, the Rockets haven’t stressed the importance of team defense. Harden was a far better defender in Oklahoma City (also hardly coincidental he saw less minutes playing behind a defensive stopper, Thabo Sefolosha), and ever since becoming the alpha dog offensively, he’s abdicated all resistance on screens, allowed himself to fall on his heels, and become an utterly liability on that end of the court.

It’s hard to imagine the situation just remedying itself given the Rockets lack of a solid third option. Harden may continue to press harder offensively, sacrificing both efficiency and Rockets wins. Maybe this seems overly critical, too prophetic, but don’t be surprised if it is the case this season.