Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
A lot of talk about James Harden this off-season has been about his defense. Whether his defense will improve remains to be seen, but Harden is closer to winning a scoring title than he is a defensive player of the year award.
Harden is no stranger to scoring the ball. It is evident by his 25 PPG he has averaged his first two seasons in Houston. He was no slouch scoring the ball in Oklahoma City either as he averaged 17 PPG coming off of the bench.
No. 13 is one of the best scorers in the league, but does not having a scoring title to show for it.
Can this be the year that he wins a scoring title?
A scoring title is not an MVP award or anything that proves you are the best player in the league, but Harden is certainly more than capable of winning a scoring title.
For shooting guards, Harden is already at the top with (or surpassed) those who have won one scoring title.
This namely refers to Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant. Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant is the reigning scoring champion from last year.
Jul 30, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Team USA guard Kevin Durant (right) dribbles the ball against guard James Harden (left) during a team practice session at Mendenhall Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
KD averaged 32 PPG on the year. Not only was Durant the only player to average 30 or more in the league last year, he averaged five points more than the second place guy, Carmelo Anthony. If we use that as a measurement for Harden, then he will have to increase his scoring output by seven points to take the title from Durant.
If Harden is to win a scoring title this year, he will have to average around 30 for the season. For an offensive player as dynamic as Harden that can be done. Harden is already amongst the league leaders in free-throws attempted a game which is at about ten per game.
Equivalently, ten free throws are equivalent to five attempts per game. But he’ll still need a few more shot attempts.
Last year, Harden attempted the sixth fewest shots of anyone ever who has averaged 25 points per game. He only attempted 21.6 field goals per 100 possessions last year, while shooting 46 percent and he was No. 19 in the league with 1205 FGAs.
Harden’s field goal attempts could be affected by the number of times he gets to the line which is at 11.9 per 100 possessions. If that number were cut in half and added to Hardens shot attempts, he would see three more shot attempts per game.
Durant averaged 27.2 shots per 100 possessions and was first in the league with shot attempts with 1688 for the whole year and shot 50 percent from the field winning the scoring title last year. His free throw attempts were at 12.4 per 100 possessions, which are pretty close to Harden’s average.
Durant was first in the league with 805 attempted free throws Harden was third with 665 attempted. KD attempted more shots and had a better shooting percentage.
Harden will have to improve his shooting percentage and add a few more shot attempts, and that would dramatically improve his chances on winning a scoring title. As it stands from last year Harden’s usage rate was 14th in the league and his offensive rating was top 10 in the league.
Even still, Harden and Durant are elite scorers their games are different; and they score in different situations. Harden has a ball dominant big man in Dwight Howard, so he’s more likely to come off of screen-and-rolls which allow him to penetrate to the rim more often than Durant.
Apr 27, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) drives the ball around Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) in the first quarter during game three in the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs at the Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
In OKC, Durant plays with a ball-dominant point guard, Russell Westbrook. This enables Durant to be put into more catch and shoot situations than Harden since Westbrook is known to be a great penetrator.
As defenders clog the lane to limit Westbrook, he can kick out to Durant for spot up shots.
Harden sees his fair share of catch and shoot opportunities on double teams from Howard.
Durant’s isolation game also helps him increase his free throw attempts and also allows him to get any shot he wants. Most of the time Durant’s shot of choice is a quality mid-range jumper. Durant attempted 7.9 three-pointers per 100 possessions last year as well making them at about 39 percent.
Harden averaged 8.7 attempts per 100 possessions last year making them at about 36 percent. As far as his isolation game goes Harden would most certainly prefer a layup at the basket.
At times, Harden will settle for ISO threes to get himself going which lead to him taking bad shots occasionally—but those are the things that come with being the team’s leading scorer.
Apr 6, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) hits a three-pointer over Denver Nuggets guard Randy Foye (4) to tie the game during the fourth quarter at Toyota Center. The Houston Rockets beat the Denver Nuggets in overtime130-125.Mandatory Credit: Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Sports
Houston’s up-tempo three-point heavy offense will always see Harden with more attempts from the three-point line. His craftiness, when it comes to drawing fouls, could also help him in regards of getting an occasional trio of free throws as a result of being fouled on the three-point line.
Harden is also one of the best players in the league in transition as he can maneuver his strong frame in ways to draw contact for fouls.
Against Portland in the playoffs last year Harden averaged 26.2 field goal attempts per 100 possessions for the series. And that’s just one shot attempt less than what Durant had for the regular season. Despite his shooting percentage (.376) being poor, he still averaged 26 PPG for the series and 31.7 PPG per 100 possessions.
All of these things considered, Harden is capable of putting up the shots necessary to win a scoring according to the measurement of Durant. The question to keep in mind is “would anybody on the Rockets roster not take too kindly to Harden averaging 20 plus shots a game?”
Since becoming the leader of the Rockets, Harden has been a better all-around playmaker, evidenced by his average of 6.1 assists last year. Even if James is to win a scoring title, we could still see him average around that same number of assists. In the playoff series against Portland, he had only one game where he had less than six assist despite his increased shot attempts.
Overall, if Harden increases his shot attempts and his sometimes shaky shot selection, we could be looking at the 2014-2015 scoring champion. The Beard has the offensive catalog of a scoring champion it’s likely just a matter of time before he claims his first scoring title.