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James Harden: Examining Houston Guards Rocketing Offense

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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James Harden: Houston Rocket Guard Continues to Dominate NBA Scoring

James Harden has been nothing short of spectacular this season especially in his scoring efforts. As he attempts to lead the Houston Rockets to a championship he has had to deal with several set backs along the way.

Early in the season his franchise All-Star cohort Dwight Howard had to miss multiple games due to injury and once again he’s back on the shelf for what we’ve now learned will be closer to 6 or 8 weeks as opposed to the initially projected month. While Howard was out the first time, the team was also dealing with the absence of power forward Terrence Jones, missing as he recovered from a strange nerve inflammation in his leg.  Harden had to carry the burden of also being without Kostas Papanikolaou, Patrick Beverley, Isaiah Canaan and other Rockets who missed games due to injury.

The only other player who Harden has been able to fully rely on to share the scoring burden is Trevor Ariza, but his skills have been required (especially during periods with the roster decimated by injury) on the defensive end.

The addition of Corey Brewer and Josh Smith is helping and he’ll desperately need them when they return from the break given the strength of schedule they’ll be facing.

What makes his consistent performances all the more incredible is the number of injuries he himself is dealing with and basically ignoring. We are witness to the athletic sleeves and tape he sports nightly, but he’s also had to deal with back spasms and ankle turns along the way. Recently he banged knees twice in the Dallas game leading to a contusion and then again in the Detroit game.

The latter took him to the ground where he lay immobile for quite some time which prompted the Piston’s medical team to come take a closer look. Eventually he gingerly left the floor, and while the entire Rocket fan base worried he might miss games it was no surprise when he returned in the second half trying to ignite his team in a failed come back attempt. Though he was listed as doubtful for the next game, once again, there he was suited up and ready to go at the tip.

While many people will say “well of course Harden is scoring, there isn’t anyone else to do it”, the truth of the matter is, that is why his scoring onslaught is all the more impressive! Through 52 games this season the Beard has lead the league in scoring averaging 27.4 points per game. His intangibles boast career highs in categories such as assists, rebounds and steals:

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Further his attempts and makes have increased from the field both from two and three point range and subsequently so has his scoring from each area:

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Closer analysis of those numbers proves even more impressive when you consider teams are not only game planning for Harden they’re solely developing game plans around him. In another Space City Scoop article: How the Warriors Shut Down James Harden, we look at Harden’s performance specifically versus the Warriors and examine some of the methods they used to shut him down.

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And although Golden State did prove successful in their endeavors the fact is he still managed to average over 25 points against the Warriors, just 2 points shy of his average.

For the Rockets they will need to address strong defenses who plan to utilize a similar strategy however not many teams have the personnel or sheer roster strength to employ the Warriors strategy.

To offset this, especially during Howard’s absence the Rockets will need to ensure they continue to employ a quick pace and engage their players to move the ball as well as themselves so there is constant movement and motion.

The true brilliance of Harden is the manner in which he scores. He mixes his ability to hit from the field with drives and a high percentage of 3-point shots. When you watch James Harden play you can’t help but recall players of a past generation as he employs a soft feathery touch with agility, balance and sheer toughness. Its uncommon in today’s game to see the mix of toughness and deftness which is likely why many of your older relatives really enjoy watching Harden’s game.

From Marc Stein: The Beard is just the fourth Rocket ever (with Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon) with the NBA’s highest scoring average at the All-Star break.

The Beard is just the fourth Rocket ever (with Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon) with the NBA’s highest scoring average at the All-Star break.

Multiple 30+ and 40+ Scoring Nights:

Other areas Harden is dominating the league is his multiple 3o+ and 40+ scoring games. This season he leads the league with 24 thirty plus scoring games. His closest competition is LeBron James who has 14 thirty or more scoring occasions.

Harden also leads the Association with 40 plus scoring nights with six such explosive games. This category is a little closer with Russell Westbrook boasting four such performances; a feat in itself given Westbrook has only played 39 games and achieved three of his four 40+ point games in a  5-game stretch. Westbrook has also posted twelve 30+ point scoring nights this season.

A quick look at Harden’s performance through 51 games showcases multiple areas in which he leads the NBA:

Leads the League:

  • Points per game: 27.4
  • Total points: 1451
  • Free Throw Makes: 429
  • Free Throw Attempts: 493
  • Offensive Win Shares: 8.2
  • Value Over Replacement Player (VORP): +5.4
  • Win Shares: 11.1

Second in League:

  • Steals: 106
  • Field Goal Makes (441)

Third in League:

  •  Box plus/minus: +9.1
  • Offensive box plus/minus: 7.8
  • 2-point field goal percent: 57.9%
  • Steals per game: 2.0

Fourth in League:

  • Player Efficiency Rating: 27.3

Fifth in League:

  • Three-Point Field Goal Attempts: 366
  • Three-Point Field Goal Makes: 140

Top Tens:

  • Defensive Win Shares: +2.9 (eighth)
  • Total Assists: 360 (eighth)
  • Usage Percent: 31.4 (eighth)

Ultimately when opposing coaches look to game plan for James Harden they need to consider his offensive variety, his increased ability to score from different areas on the floor and his play making ability. Through the final 31 games of the season he’ll certainly have ample opportunity to achieve multiple high scoring nights especially given Howard will likely be out until March 18th (6 weeks) or April 1st (8 weeks). If in fact Howard remains out 8 weeks he’ll have just 8 games left in the season to round into form (15 games if he returns in 6 weeks) and redevelop chemistry with his teammates.

Regardless of when Howard returns one thing is for certain, Harden will go out of his way to keep the Rockets in the top tier of Western seeds in an effort to retain home court. And while James Harden leads his Rockets in pursuit of the Larry O’Brien trophy those of you lucky enough to select him in your fantasy league, keep smiling because he might just be the guy who brings you a championship of your very own.

Next: Is there a new Rocket rival?

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