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Houston Rockets: 2017-18 player grades for James Harden

Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
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Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

James Harden put up another MVP worthy performance in the 2017-18 season. Let’s examine his amazing year and grade his performance.

After James Harden’s brilliant campaign in the 2016-17 season, it was hard to see how the Beard could get any better. Yet, he did just that.

Even though the Rockets acquired Chris Paul, Harden still had a lot of responsibility on offense. Harden led the NBA in scoring, averaging a career high 30.4 points per game.

With his new sidekick, Harden led the Rockets to a franchise record 65 wins over the course of the regular season. Houston had the best road record in the NBA, and they tied with Toronto for the best home record.

Harden’s brilliance helped the Rockets finish with the second best offensive rating in the NBA. Paired with their top 10 defense, Houston became an elite team on both ends of the floor.

James Harden took an early lead in the MVP race by a wide margin. There were a few other superstars that also had MVP-worthy seasons, but Harden is definitely the favorite to win the award.

There was a lot to take away from the Beard’s amazing season. Let’s start by examining his strengths.

Next: Strengths

Strengths

On the offensive end of the floor, James Harden is strong in every category. The Beard can score at a high level at the rim, behind the arc and at the free throw line.

Any team with Mike D’Antoni as the coach is going to shoot a lot of 3s, and the Rockets are no different. James Harden nailed 265 3-pointers over the course of the season, which led the NBA. Harden made 36.7 percent of his 3-pointers, which is two percent higher than his 3-point percentage from the previous year.

James Harden also proved that he’s still the best in the league at getting to the free throw line. He made 624 free throws in the regular season, which is a staggering 129 more than the next closest player.

We can’t talk about Harden’s strengths without talking about his isolation game. Mike D’Antoni abandoned his seven second or less offense to take advantage of Harden and Paul’s 1-on-1 skills. And they haven’t disappointed.

Harden averaged a staggering 12.2 points per game on isolation plays, which is twice as many as the next best iso player. Harden averaged 1.22 points per possession on isolation plays, which is higher than any other player that had at least 100 isolation possessions in the season.

Additionally, Harden also finished third in assists, averaging 8.8 per game. All things considered, James Harden was the best offensive player in basketball in the 2017-18 season.

Next: Weaknesses

Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Weaknesses

The two weakest links in James Harden’s game are turnovers and defense.

Starting with the former, Harden did a better job at taking care of the ball this season. In the 2016-17 season, Harden committed 464 turnovers, which was the highest amount in a single season in NBA history. Harden had just 315 total turnovers this past season. That’s still a lot, but its a major improvement over the year before.

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James Harden is also not as bad on defense as some critics would lead you to believe. When defending against the isolation, he gave up just .80 points per possession. That number is better than 2016-17 defensive player of the year Draymond Green, who gave up 0.90 points per possession on isolation plays. Also, Harden defended against an isolation play 114 times in the regular season, which is more than Green’s 110. So no, a small sample size didn’t skew the numbers.

James Harden had even more success defending in the post. When defending in the post, Harden gave up just 0.73 points per possession. Harden’s opponents also only scored on him on 37 percent of their post ups. To put that into perspective, Harden’s score frequency when defending post ups is better than Anthony Davis‘ (44 percent), who made the All-Defensive First Team this season.

Again, Harden’s lofty numbers aren’t due to a small sample size. In fact, Harden defended on 1.9 post plays per game, which is the most in the NBA among players that appeared in at least 10 games.

No, James Harden isn’t as good on defense as guys like Paul George or Kawhi Leonard. He probably won’t appear on an All-Defensive team, either. But Harden has made great strides on defense, and Houston’s defense as a team has benefited from it.

Next: Highlights

Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Highlights

James Harden had a ton of great moments throughout the regular season, but we have to start with his career game against the Magic back on Jan. 30. James Harden dropped a career high 60 points, to go along with 10 rebounds, 11 assists and 4 steals.

With Chris Paul out with an injury, it was Harden’s job to carry the entire offense. In the first half, Harden got to the rim and finished over and over again as Orlando’s defense just couldn’t keep him out of the paint. Then in the second half, Harden’s outside shot started to fall. He nailed a ridiculous fadeaway 3-pointer to beat the shot clock in the fourth quarter. Later in the fourth, Harden nailed a 3-pointer plus a foul to break Calvin Murphy‘s franchise scoring record and to tally his 60th point.

We can’t talk about James Harden’s highlights without mentioning his sick crossover on Wesley Johnson. With Houston up big in the first quarter against the Clippers, Harden pulled off the crossover of the year.

James Harden sized up Johnson with a few between the leg dribble moves, drove to his left, stopped on a dime and sent Johnson tumbling to the floor. To make it even worse, Harden paused and stared at Johnson while he was trying to get up and then nailed a 3-pointer. There were plenty of oohs and ahhs from the opposing crowd, and of course fans on Twitter roasted Johnson with meme after meme.

Next: Final Grade

James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets
James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets

Final Grade

James Harden has already finished as the MVP runner-up twice, but its safe to say that this was his best season.

If you look at Harden’s advanced analytics, he had career highs in player efficiency rating (29.8), win shares per 48 minutes (.289) and box plus/minus (10.9). Harden also led all players this past season in player efficiency rating, usage percentage (36.1), offensive win shares (11.6), win shares (15.4), win shares per 48 minutes and box plus/minus.

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When you consider that Harden is the most complete offensive player in the game, has improved his defense, and led the Rockets to the league’s best record, he has the best case for the MVP Award.

The Rockets did have a disappointing end to their season when they lost to the Warriors in Game 7. Houston had a great run, and they pushed Golden State to the brink of elimination. Unfortunately, Paul’s injury and bad shooting killed Houston’s Finals hopes.

James Harden struggled to shoot well in the postseason, averaging just 41.0 percent shooting from the field. In fact, Harden missed 22 consecutive 3-pointers between Game 4 and Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. Also, according to Clutch Points, Harden missed 59 3-pointers in the conference finals, which is the most in a single playoff series in NBA history.

James Harden had an unbelievable year, but his shooting woes in the postseason have to effect his grade.

Next: 3 reasons why Paul George is a good fit for the Houston Rockets

Grade: A

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