The James Harden Puzzle


At 16-17, it’s safe to say the Houston Rockets‘ season is nothing but a big disappointment. What’s unfair about their struggles, Dwight Howard and Ty Lawson has gotten all the blame for the Rockets’ sluggish play this season.

In fairness I have to admit, Howard and Lawson have not played their best to this point in the season. Both are averaging their lowest career marks since their rookie year coupled with inconsistent performances. There are many things wrong in Houston this season, but if the Rockets have any animosity about their problems, they must take a look at their All-Star guard James Harden.

Sorry to the die-heart fans of the bearded one, but bottom line Harden has become the main problem in Houston. Do not get it twisted, this article isn’t taking anything away from the league’s second leading scorer. On an Individual standpoint, Harden is having a great season.

Averaging 28.4 points, 6.8 assists, and 6.0 rebounds in 34 games, Harden is still the best player in Clutch City. If it wasn’t for a couple of 40 plus games from Harden this season, the Rockets would have came out on the losing end. Especially against the Philadelphia 76ers where Harden scored a season high 50 points in the 116-114 victory last month.

Buzzer-Beater to cap off a 18 point first quarter.

— James Harden MVP (@TeamMVPHarden) November 10, 2015

Yet as a team player, Harden’s style of play has become more hurtful than helpful to Houston. Since the blockbuster trade four-years ago with the Thunder, perhaps Harden has become the best one-on-one player in the league.

Unfortunately, Harden’s one-on-one play has become the Rockets biggest problem on the offensive end. At this rate, Harden’s legacy may well become the great scorer who never made his team better, similar to Knicks’ star Carmelo Anthony.

Much like Anthony, Harden’s selfish play will eventually have a negative effect on Houston during free agency. Other All-Star players will not have the desire to play in Houston knowing there is a ball dominant guard named James Harden.

With respect to his play making abilities, Harden is a good facilitator who can create scoring opportunities for his teammates. However, he does not know how to give up the ball without freezing out his teammates. Like ESPN analyst Amin Elhassan once said, “There is a difference in receiving a pass that is quick, versus getting a pass after a guy has just dribbled for 17 seconds.”

During his isolation plays, Harden tends to dribble the shot clock down to the last 10 seconds, and past it if he cannot get his shot off. This is horrible for the Rockets. Watching Harden go one-on-one for 15 seconds will take the energy out of the team’s offense. Harden’s isolation play is the main reason why the Ty Lawson experience has failed in Houston this season.

To be clear Patrick Beverley is NOT a better point guard than Lawson. To be honest, Jeremy Lin should never have lost his starting spot to Beverley two years ago. The ONLY reason Beverley moved passed Lin and now Lawson as the starting point guard is he’s not a ball dominant guard. Which makes the perfect back court mate for James Harden.

In order for him to have the same impact like he once did in Denver, Lawson needs to have the ball in his hands more than Harden has allowed. If he wanted to keep the ball in hands throughout the season, Harden should have never complained to management about wanting a starting point guard.

Daryl Morey went out and got the best player available to upgrade the Rockets’ back court, yet Harden doesn’t share the ball with him. The Western Conference Finals proved that Harden’s one-on-one ability isn’t enough to lead the Rockets to a championship title.

If Lawson was able to have the ball in his hands, both he and Harden could have put together the second best back court in the association. Harden has shown the ability as a play maker, but freezing out his teammates on the offensive end will only result in a first round exit. At this point I’m not convinced Harden would allow Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo to be the primary ball handler on the court.

Beyond  a lack of sharing the ball with back court mate Ty Lawson, James Harden has made it impossible for Dwight Howard to have an impact consistently on the offensive end.

Just take a look how effective Howard could be if Harden shared the ball more frequently.

By allowing Harden to do whatever he wants on the court, the Rockets has disrespected and misused Howard in their offense. It’s understood that he will never be offensively gifted in the post like Hakeem Olajuwon, but why hasn’t the Rockets incorporated the pick-and-roll in their offense for Howard.

They used the pick-and-roll offense only a few times this season, it should be used every game. There’s no reason Howard should be averaging 12.6 points per game. Especially playing alongside a great player like Harden. Just imagine how effective the Harden-Howard duo could become if they ran the pick-and-roll more often.

Houston would be nearly unstoppable, and guaranteed fans will see the return of Superman in H-Town. Throughout their history, the Rockets have seen their share of dynamic duos in Houston. Unfortunately if Harden continues to be reluctant sharing the ball with Howard, they will go down as the most disappointing duo in Rockets history.

While talking about Harden’s problem, cannot overlook his poor play on defense. At one time Harden made everyone believe his defense had improved, but this season it seems worse than ever. According to the NBA player tracking stats, Rockets opponents are shooting 47 percent from the field when guarded by Harden. Last season, Harden’s opponents shot 42 percent!

At the end of the day Harden is a phenomenal talent, and even I have become a fan of the bearded one since he came to Houston four years ago. There are many problems in Houston this season, but unless Harden takes a look at the man in the mirror, the Houston Rockets will continue to stay on a downward spiral.

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