James Harden might not leave Clutch City anytime soon, but injury or suspension is never an impossibility. The fact is the Houston Rockets are extremely dependent on James Harden’s offense, which makes them predictable, so what steps should be taken to resolve this issue.
The first thing to take into consideration is that the Rockets’ offense depends greatly on the beard. It is painful to watch the Rockets trying to play offense without Harden on the floor. Lately, with the arrival of Michael Beasley, things are getting better. However, it has never gone past the stage of just passing the ball to Beasley and hope for the best.
While Harden has few flaws offensive, such as his tendency to dribble the ball way too long and only pass the ball when the clock is close to expiring. He is one of the best, if not the best offensive superstar in the league. He can shoot outside shots, he can take the ball to the hole, he can pass, and he has an incredible ability to draw fouls like no other.
How can the Rockets be anywhere close to competitive without him? The answer is that the Rockets must play team basketball which is a concept that might be unfamiliar to the team these days.
Can the Rockets survive without the beard?
The big question facing the Rockets without Harden is who would be the point guard of the team. Officially, Patrick Beverley is the one who should distribute the ball. However, that is not his strong suit. He averages a mere 3.0 APG both in the 2015-16 season and his career. An argument could be made that since Harden is the primary Rockets’ play maker Beverley hasn’t had a chance to shine in the role. When he played in the D-League, he averaged 7.0 APG. Maybe, if Harden is not on the floor, he might be able to take care of the play making responsibilities. However, D-League is an entirely different league from the NBA, not to mention that Beverley has developed his game around being a rare 3 and D point guard to supplement Harden’s game.
So, the Rockets shouldn’t trust Beverley as the primary play maker. In my previous article, I argued that the Rockets need to draft a new point guard, ideally one that could be the team’s secondary play maker. While it is not wise to load all of the play making responsibility on a rookie PG, the ideal thing to do should be sharing the play making responsibility among all the players, with the rookie PG as the main play maker. The Rockets have good passers, especially power forwards such as Josh Smith (even if he rarely sees the floor lately) and Donatas Motiejunas. The idea of playing without a true point guard might not be a bad choice after all, even in the modern PG driven league.
Play making is not the only thing that Harden brings to the table, he is also a 3-point threat and a menace when he drives to the lane. How can the Rockets function without him? No one on the Rockets can create their own 3-point shot like Harden. Thus, when Harden is not on the floor, the Rockets should try a different approach. They shouldn’t take as many 3’s. They should only take open threes. The way to do that is to move the ball around and look for openings. Instead of having Harden hogging the ball for 15-20 second before he passes, the ball should constantly be in motion. While this might increase the chance of turnovers, it would help build team chemistry and offer an opportunity to take advantage of lazy opponent defenses.
Harden’s heavy minutes could also be compensated by spreading his minutes among the team. Good players like Beasley or Clint Capella are way underplayed. The new signing Andrew Goudelock hasn’t played at all since his five-minute debut vs. the Hornets. Goudelock seems like a good player, he would fit right in with the new offense with his 41% three pointing shooting. With him, Trevor Ariza, Beverley, and D-Mo on the floor, we have four shooters that all need to be tightly guarded on the perimeter. That would create a lot of space in the paint for Capela or Beasley.
Any Rockets fan remembers the miraculous comeback of game 6 last year vs. the Los Angeles Clippers, when the beard was not even played. When the comeback occurred Harden was on the bench and it was Josh Smith making wide open 3s because the ball was moving around. Granted Josh Smith is a terrible outside shooter now and the team cannot depend on any one shooter to get hot (the most reliable shooter on the team, unfortunately, is Harden), but getting open shots is never a bad thing.
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It seems to be beneficial if the Rockets could find playing times for young players down the road. It is no secret that the Rockets are better defensively with Harden on the bench. Defensively, K.J. McDaniel is a superior defender, mostly because Harden is not actually trying. Some might want to give him a pass because of his workload on the Rockets’ offense, if we can get that load off Harden shoulders, it might give him more motivation on the defensive end.
The thought that the Rockets have to play offense without Harden is not a nightmare scenario. In a few non-fast break possessions this season (very rarely), the team actually did not need Harden (sometimes they do so in order to let him take a break). Four-man-offense with Harden standing pretty in the corner waiting for the 3 point shot could and should be dangerous.
In summation, the fact remains the Rockets need to actively figure out how to address their offense when Harden rests and more importantly when he’s on the floor so oppositions can’t just key in on him. ‘s
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