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Is it fair to blame James Harden for the Rockets struggles?

Apr 18, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts after the Rockets made a three point basket against the Golden State Warriors in the first quarter in game two of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 18, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts after the Rockets made a three point basket against the Golden State Warriors in the first quarter in game two of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
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Sure Houston is far too talented to be a .500 team. Sure they have underachieved this season, but how much blame can be placed on James Harden?

In a span of one year, James Harden had evolved into one of the premiere talents in the league into the poster child for the Houston Rockets struggles this season. As Houston fell behind 0-2 to the Golden State Warriors Monday night, Harden’s name was in hot water yet again.

It’s halftime of game 2. The Rockets trailed the Warriors 66-58 heading into the break. As the broadcast switched to Inside The NBA Halftime Report, TNT’s analyst Shaquille O’Neal had a few harsh words for The Bearded One. The former league MVP in 2000 stated that Harden’s lack of leadership on the court is to blame for the Rockets shortcoming this season.

"“The problem with James Harden is he has no leadership skills. I know for a fact as the main player, when you come to play, others will follow. If you’re the leader of a team, you gotta do what you’re supposed to do. If you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, then others will not do anything”- O’Neal"

As an ex-leader on a few championship teams, O’Neal made a great point. Harden should be giving 100 percent on both ends of the floor. However, much like O’Neal’s free throw shooting, everyone has at least one flaw in their game. Unfortunately, defense has become Harden’s kryptonite.

As the NBA’s leader in minutes played at 38.1 MPG. How can Harden give maximum effort on defense when Houston expect so much from him on offense?
What critics fail to realize is most of Harden’s imperfect defensive plays are the results of poor help defense from his teammates. (FYI Dwight Howard) For example, take a look at this play from Harrison Barnes Monday night.

Harrison Barnes attacks the rim on TNT! #NBARapidReplay #WARRIORSvROCKETS https://t.co/byc2STgqCk

— NBA (@NBA) April 19, 2016

The number one issues with this play was Dwight Howard‘s help defense. When Barnes blew past Harden, Howard should have been in better position to fill in the gap. With D12 coming over late, it created a wide open lane for a slam by Barnes. Next, take a look at this play from Draymond Green.

Draymond Green with the post move and the stuff! #NBAPlayoffs https://t.co/CTsCZZhVEK

— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 19, 2016

Once again if Howard were in better position to fill in the gap, he could have helped prevent this easy bucket by Green. I’m not giving Harden an excuse for his lack of performance on the defensive end, but critics need to analyze the whole play. Not just Harden’s flaws.

In 82 games, Harden became the third player in NBA history to average at least 29.0 points, 7.5 assists, and 6.1 rebounds in a single season. Which made him by far the most effective and best player in Clutch City. Each night he played his heart out trying to will the Rockets to a victory. In fact, if it wasn’t for a few 40 point plus games this season Houston would have never come out on the winning end. Just two weeks ago, it took a 41 point effort to gave the Rockets an 118-110 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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Unfortunately, critics only want to discuss his ability to dominate the ball offensively. James Harden is the Rockets offense! Every game he must become a facilitator who can create scoring opportunities for his teammates. As well as score no less than 30 points a game in order for the Rockets to have a chance at winning.

Harden’s demand for the ball on a nightly basis sounds more like a management problem. If James Harden had someone other than himself to facilitate the ball perhaps he would not have set the record for most turnovers in a season.

To be clear Patrick Beverley is not a point guard that can take a load off Harden. Daryl Morey thought he found the answer to Houston’s point guard problems last summer. Sadly, the Ty Lawson experiment was nothing but an embarrassment to the franchise.

Overall, critics should stop blaming Harden for the Rockets struggles, and take a look at the team as a whole. No one ever talks about Dwight Howard’s inability to score down low. Nor discusses Trevor Ariza and company jacking up three point shots in transition. If one was to take the time and analyze the Rockets as a whole potentially one would find that James Harden is far from being Houston’s main problem.

Next: Does Dwight Howard Deserve More Touches

Next: Rockets Fall 0-2 To Curry-Less Warriors

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