While the NBA drifts into its quietest part of the year, lets take a look at three goals for Houston Rockets’ guard James Harden.
This offseason has been an exciting one for James Harden and the Houston Rockets.
While many teams in the NBA underwent extreme roster changes at the start of free agency, the Rockets appeared to be standing PAT. After missing out on Jimmy Butler, Houston seemed content to bring back the same roster they had from a season ago with a few upgrades to the second unit.
Out of nowhere, the Thunder sent Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers, signaling the end of OKC’s run at being a contender. Daryl Morey quickly got on the phone with Thunder GM Sam Presti to explore trade opportunities with a team that was obviously willing to sell its best assets. Less than a week later, the Rockets sent a package centered around Chris Paul to Oklahoma City in exchange for Russell Westbrook.
The NBA will see a back court featuring Harden and Westbrook once again, but this time both players are at their peak and they’ll be teaming up in Houston.
This is the first time Harden will be paired with another star that still has a few prime years left since he’s been in Houston. However, I don’t expect Harden’s game to change too much.
Harden will still put up big numbers across the board, score in droves and abuse defenders in isolation just as he’s always done. However, the Rockets now have two top ten players in the league, which should lead to plenty of regular season and postseason success.
With that in mind, lets take a look at three goals for James Harden heading into the 2019-20 season.
Next: No. 3
3. Average four or less turnovers per game
In the past, the weakest part of James Harden’s game was definitely his defense. He had trouble staying in front of quicker guards and he often lost track of his man. However, Harden has worked hard on that end of the floor and has actually become an impact player defensively, finishing second in steals and sixth in deflections per game last season.
The biggest glare in Harden’s game at this point in his career is turnovers. Harden led the NBA in turnovers last year with an average of 5 per game and he has led the league in turnovers in three of the last four seasons. In fact, both Harden and Westbrook have finished at least second in the league in turnovers in four consecutive seasons.
To be fair, Harden has led the league in usage percentage in two consecutive seasons and has been among the league leaders in usage for the better part of half a decade. Its expected that his turnover numbers are higher than average, considering the amount of time he has the ball and the responsibility he has to make so many plays for himself and others.
However, Harden can spread more of his offensive responsibility on Westbrook, which should decrease his usage a bit and his turnovers should follow. Houston’s back court has to be more careful with the ball next season, especially against teams with great defensive players like the Clippers. Harden’s turnover goal for next season should be four or less.
Next: No. 2
2. Win a second MVP Award
2015, 2017, 2019, James Harden has finished as runner-up for the MVP Award more often than we’d like to count. Sure, he did win it in 2018, and deservedly so, but it seems like The Beard should have more than one MVP trophy in his resume.
Luckily, Harden is in a good position to take home the MVP Award next season. Last year, after a disastrous start and a multitude of injuries, the Rockets still managed to win 53 games. As long as Houston stays healthy, they should win at least 55 games next season and they could push 60 wins if Westbrook’s transition with Houston goes smoothly.
Harden will definitely have his fair share of challengers, as guys like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Joel Embiid will all have the numbers and the team record to enter the MVP discussion. And of course, Giannis Antetokounmpo will be in the mix to defend his crown.
However, if Harden averages around 30 points per game and continues to put up strong numbers across the board, he has as good of a chance as any superstar to take home the MVP next season.
Next: No. 1
1. Win a Finals MVP Award
After trading for Russell Westbrook, the Rockets got a bit younger and extended James Harden’s window to win a championship. After collecting MVP’s and Olympic Gold Medals, the only thing Russ and Harden don’t have is a NBA championship.
In fact, Harden has only one NBA Finals appearance, which came all the way back in 2012. However, the Rockets can change that with this year’s team, as the race to the Finals in the west is fair game for a handful of elite teams.
The list of players that have won both MVP and a Finals MVP is fairly short. The list of players to win both MVP and Finals MVP in the same season is limited to just 10 players and includes Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
Harden is already a lock for the Hall of Fame, but if he can win both MVP and Finals MVP next season, it would put him in entirely different company in the basketball history books and bring Houston it’s first NBA championship in over two decades.