Nov 7, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) looks to pass against Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Blake (5) during the second quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
There’s nary a soul in the Association who questions James Harden’s ability to hit the three or put his head down and barrel to the basket, but an understated facet of Harden’s game is his ability to distribute the basketball. Harden’s role in the offense can’t be understated, but he’s been initiating more offensive sets this year, and he’s also been looking to the wings when pushing it in transition.
What makes this most essential is that there will be nights Harden’s shot isn’t falling.
Against the Utah Jazz on Thurs. night, Harden managed to hit just 6-of-18 from the floor and 1-of-5 from three point range. Yet, despite this, he had the highest plus/minus of any Rockets player and played a team-high 38 minutes. Harden made the difference by making a run at a triple double, racking up 10 dimes and falling just three rebounds short of the trip-dub.
On the second night of a back to back, he was anything but lacking in energy.
When Harden is playing as a facilitator, the result is a lot of easy looks for the Rockets shooters. Teams have to respect No. 13’s ability to get to the rim (he did go 9-of-9 from the line against Utah), and because of opposing guards collapsing into the paint, things are going to open up for Trevor Ariza, Jason Terry and the host of Rockets shooters.
Harden will have nights where he’s cooking fully. On opening night against the Lakers, he was more offensive-minded, attempting 17 field goals (making seven) and hitting 3-of-6 from downtown. Harden also attempted 16 free throws in the game, which has been his bread and butter. Despite all of that offense, he was still credited with six assists (though it seemed it should have been eight, according to some unofficial scoring from home), his season average from a year ago.
Oct 22, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) looks to pass the ball against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports
The Rockets are going to go as far as Harden can take them, but it doesn’t always have to be through him scoring en masse. Thus far, it has been most impressive in seeing him branch out and give the shooters their looks. The Rockets hit 14-of-27 from three-point range against the Jazz, and Trevor Ariza knows how to spot up in the right place at the right time.
Jason Terry and Harden appear as though they have been playing together for years, and Terry scored an efficient 12 points with two triples against the Jazz. All in all, Harden is a one of a kind scorer, but don’t be surprised if it’s his passing that bails the Rockets out when his shots aren’t falling.