Houston Rockets Year End Player Reviews: James Harden

Feb 27, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the game against the San Antonio Spurs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 27, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the game against the San Antonio Spurs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

In the midst of the chaos that was the Houston Rockets 2015-2016 season not even James Harden could escape. Still the Bearded one remains Red Nation’s best hope for a shot at the title in the future. With that, here’s the  Year End Review of H-town’s best player: James Harden.

There is still no denying it: the ASU alumni is still one of the most talented players in the league. Nevertheless James Harden trapped amid controversy, drama and shoe contract disputes just couldn’t replicate last year’s performance.

And while last year’s awards poured into the lap of the shooting guard, this season all of the accolades vanished and Harden was simply added to the huge list of Houston Rockets disappointments.

Even if it’s true that his numbers and general performances didn’t suffer, Harden was far from being the dominant force he was when the Rockets reached the Conference Finals. His defense was once again scrutinized and mocked. His inability of playing for the team was criticized and as never before Harden and Howard’s relationship on court was blatantly disharmonious.

As the Houston Rockets cornerstone Harden will have a lot to prove in the 2016-2017 season. Whether Howard is by his side or not, there is just no more excuses for James Harden now paired with a Head Coach who is set to maximize his offensive will to the utmost level.

With his priorities set straight and with a new mentality there should be nothing last season’s MVP runner-up cannot achieve.

Next: A Season of Snubs (or was it?)

Apr 3, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) celebrates after scoring a basket during the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Toyota Center. The Rockets won 118-110. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

2015-2016 Regular Season Overlook

82 Games Played and Started, 38.1 Minutes Per Game, 29.0 Points Per Game, 7.5 Assists Per Game, 6.1 Rebounds Per Game, 1.7 Steals Per Game, 86.0 Free Throw Percent, 43.9 Field Goal Percent, 35.9 Three Point Percent, 4.6 Turnovers Per Game.

All highlighted stats are career-highs.

But if those stats didn’t impress you enough how about the following ones:

Harden actually led the league by over 1 minute in Minutes Per Game as well as being second in points per game (after Stephen Curry who averaged 30.1).

The Beard was placed 8th in Efficiency Rating (25.3) and 6th in Assists (being the first non-point guard ranked in the list). To wit, Harden was also ranked second between guards in rebounds per game trailing only Russell Westbrook.

These stats in hindsight should be reason enough to question how on earth is it possible that James Harden missed out on being included on any of the three All-NBA teams. Further, it marks the first year since the Beard set foot in Houston that he failed to be recognized on at least one of the All-NBA team selections.

And even with Houston Rockets’ considerable slide in productivity and wins this season, one has to wonder what else was necessary for Harden to grab one of those spots.

The shooting guard’s season also featured his fourth appearance as a Western Conference All-Star and as a contestant in the Three Point Contest.

But despite having career-highs in some key stat categories it’s hard to advocate in Harden’s favor as he was nowhere near his sublime form of last season.

While it may be true the reports from Houston Rockets former head coach Kevin McHale that Harden showed up for preseason out of shape, to be fair the shooting guard’s usage was beyond acceptable.

Not only the fact Harden played over 38 minutes per game but the Beard’s physical style of play and general ball-dominance might as well have contributed for the player’s drop in overall performance. Harden wasn’t as decisive nor as effective as he was in the 2014-2015 season.

And, as the Rockets scrapped into postseason with an underwhelming .500 record, Harden as well as the rest of the Texan team just didn’t have enough in the tank (or perhaps in team chemistry) to beat the reigning champions.

Next: An Insurmountable Challenge

April 16, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) shoots the basketball against Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) during the first quarter in game one of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

2016 Playoff Stats

5 Games, 38.6 Minutes Per Game, 26.6 Points Per Game, 5.2 Rebounds Per Game, 7.6 Assists Per Game, 2.4 Steals Per Game, 5.2 Turnovers. 84.4 Free Throw Percent, 31.0 Three Point Percent, 41.0 Field Goal Percent.

If nothing else Harden delivered a valiant performance in the 2016 postseasonm but that was about it. The Rockets only win against the Golden State Warriors came in Game 3 behind a huge 35 point, 9 assist, 8 rebound performance by James Harden that included the winning shot with less than 3 seconds left in the clock.

To wit, Harden was smothered by Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green’s marking, and just didn’t get enough help from his teammates throughout the series for anything else to occur than the gentleman’s sweep.

What’s most revealing is that no other Rocket besides Harden broke the 20 point mark in the series. In fact in Game 5 Harden who dropped 35 points was the only player on the team – besides Michael Beasley with 11 – to score in double digits.

Despite Harden’s performance, the 2016 Playoffs punctuated the teams shortcomings and areas requiring upgrades. Most notably the need to find a player to share the offensive load with Harden, as well as a player or players to boost bench production.

In the end the result was the same as the year prior in that the Warriors dispensed of the Rockets regardless of the team leaving much to be desired. In truth Harden did abuse his rights of turning the ball over, averaging an unacceptable 5.2 TO per game.

As it turned out the Warriors who were left without the services of their MVP Stephen Curry for a couple of games didn’t need him to finish off the fragile Houston Rockets.

Next: A Whole Lot of Highlights

Jan 22, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) celebrates making a three point shot against the Milwaukee Bucks during the second half at the Toyota Center. The Rockets defeat the Bucks 102-98. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Season Highlights

Not much of a sky walker James Harden doesn’t always strike the Top 10 Best Plays of the Week for flashy or throw down dunks. Nevertheless the Beard did have great performances throughout the year, scoring the basket and leading the team.

A remarkable one, for example, was his season high 50 points to go along with 9 rebounds and 8 assists versus the Sixers on November 27th:

One of his most impressive performances though arguably came in a Rockets loss to the Detroit Pistons on January 20th when Harden posted a triple double scoring 33 points with 14 assists and 17 boards.

But his best showing was probably his 40 points, 14 assists effort against the Toronto Raptors on March 6th:

Finally as a reminder of how much James Harden still needs to work on his D, here are some of the famous hilarious 2016 Harden’s defensive low lights:

Next: Harden's Future... Rockets Future

Mar 9, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) prior to action against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

I believe it’s safe to say that as far as the foreseeable future goes, James Harden is and will be the core of the Texan team. It’s being said and repeated: Harden is the face and heart of the Houston Rockets franchise.

Regardless of whether Harden had any say on Mike D’Antoni’s hiring (as was reported) with him in place the franchise star now has a coach whose offensive strategies will work to extract the best of Harden. Further, it’s a huge indication of where the franchise is headed.

Expect Harden to have even more power and say in future decisions – and rightfully so – as he consolidates himself as the biggest star in H-town.

As great a player as he is, James Harden can’t do it alone, but it became crystal clear that the partnership with Dwight Howard has probably reached a point of no return. Thus, in order for the Rockets to succeed Daryl Morey must find someone who is able to play and get along with the Beard and his ball-dominant style of basketball.

I for one, however am extremely disappointed in James Harden recent decision of withdrawing from the USA Olympic Team. As a Brazilian I’m sad that a player of such talent and fame won’t attend the Rio de Janeiro Games. But most of all as a Houston Rockets fan and analyst I feel his presence  in the Olympic Games would only serve to help Harden as a lead up to the 2016-2017 season as it would help build his confidence and enhance his leadership growth.

The future of the Houston Rockets rests on James Harden’s shoulders and as long as he is focused and motivated we’ve all seen that the shooting guard can achieve anything.

Perhaps that is the take away for why he chose to not attend the Olympics and this is a sign he is dedicating his summer to preparing for the 2016-17 season. If that is the case, then Rockets fans have much to look forward to.

Be sure to check out our Draft Prospect Series and our Year End Player Reviews

Next: No Chance at Durant?

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