With 11 wins and 12 losses, the Houston Rockets are slowly working their way back to a .500 record behind the elevated play of superstar James Harden. As they begin to show signs of improvement, questions of whether Harden is having to do too much linger.
After losing to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, the Rockets vowed to find a player to take some of the offensive pressure off of Harden. Many, including myself, believed that Ty Lawson would be able to assist Harden in carrying the offensive load. Unfortunately, Lawson has been nonexistent outside of a couple of games this season.
Harden is currently averaging 29 points, 7 assists, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals. While that is an impressive stat line, Harden is having to play 39 minutes per game to get it done. Playing more minutes than any other player in the league, the Rockets must find a way to reduce Harden’s time on the court in order to sustain his success throughout a long season.
Wednesday night in Washington, Harden logged his 6th 40+ point game of the season. Over the past two seasons, Harden has more 40+ point games than anybody in the league, and only Steph Curry (7) has more than him this current season.
James Harden: 6th 40-point game of the season last night He has the most in the NBA over the last 2 seasons pic.twitter.com/0Rdakrb27V
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 10, 2015
In wins, Harden is averaging 36 points on 44% shooting in 40 minutes. In losses, Harden is going for 22 points on 35% shooting in 38 minutes. It goes without saying that the Rockets live or die by the play of James Harden.
The least amount of points Harden has scored in a Rockets win this season is 22 against the New Orleans Pelicans. The most he has scored is 50 in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers in which the Rockets barely escaped giving the Sixers their first win of the season by a score of 116-114.
Yes, James Harden had to go for fifty in order for the Rockets to beat a win-less team.
As distressing as it may be that Harden has had to average 35 points for the Rockets to win games, the good news is that Harden is starting to heat up. After a poor start shooting the ball, Harden’s shooting percentages have increased in each month of play.
Through November, Harden shot 41% from the field and 32% from three. In December, he has managed to increase his shooting percentages to 42% from the field and 38% from deep.
Also in the month of December, the Rockets coaching staff has managed to get Harden’s minutes down to 37 minutes per game as opposed to the 40 minute games he was averaging in November.
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) December 10, 2015
James Harden has returned to the MVP form that he embodied last season, but it won’t be enough for the Rockets to win a championship. If Harden has to carry the entire offensive load, the Rockets won’t be a match for the Golden State Warriors or the San Antonio Spurs.
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Lawson has yet to live up to expectations, but maybe he can find a way to turn into a spark off the bench. If not, the best direction the Rockets can go with their current cast of players is to utilize an underrated Marcus Thornton more off the bench.
If the Rockets are unable to find a way for their current squad to offer more help to James Harden, look for the Rockets to make a trade for a player who can help Harden score the ball.
The Rockets will look to improve their record Saturday night at home against the Los Angeles Lakers in a game in which Houston fans will have one of their final chances to watch Kobe Bryant play in the Toyota Center.
Make sure you catch up on our entire Team Preview Series, our Houston Rockets Player Profile Series as well as our SCS Round Table Sessions to help you get through the season. Start your morning with SCS Rocket Science Daily and visit us throughout the day to keep abreast of all your Houston Rockets news and updates.