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Grading the Houston Rockets this season: James Harden

Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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James Harden put up great numbers before the season was stopped, but those numbers can blind some from the miserable season he had for the Houston Rockets.

34.4 PTS, 6.4 REB, 7.4 AST per game, 43.5 percent FG

Another year, another season where James Harden is the leading scorer not only for the Houston Rockets but the entire NBA. Harden’s per-game averages are similar to last year’s numbers in which he had an amazing and historical season.

While last season he finished as the runner-up for league MVP, this year he isn’t anywhere near the top of the MVP ladder. Why is that? Usually, averaging 34 points, over six rebounds and over seven assists per game on a championship-contending team should scream MVP, but this is not the case.

The reason is simple: James Harden wasn’t having a great season. Although Harden was selected as an All-Star for the eighth consecutive season and most likely would’ve been a member of the All-NBA team, those accomplishments are rewarded only due to stats.

While it’s easy to go strictly off of statistics and say Harden was having another great year, sometimes it just comes down to actually watching the games. In observing Harden’s play this year, it is easy to determine his season wasn’t very Harden-like.

The Beard has had some of the worst shooting performances in his career this season but because he would somehow still finish with 30-plus points, many would think he had a good game.

Much of this inflated number, however, is due in part to him also leading the league in free throw attempts per game with nearly 12. Lets take a look at some Harden’s historically bad shooting performances from this year.

10/26 vs NO: 8-29 FG, 2-18 from 3 (11-12 FT) finished with 29 points (W)

11/1 @ BKN: 10-31 FG, 2-16 from 3 (14-15 FT) finished with 36 points (L)

11/16 @ MIN: 16-41 FG, 8-22 from 3 (9-11 FT) finished with 49 points (W)

1/8 @ ATL: 9-34 FG, 4-20 from 3 (19-23 FT) finished with 41 points (W)

1/20 vs OKC:  9-29 FG, 1-17 from 3 (10-13 FT)  finished with 29 points (L)

3/5 vs LAC: 4-17 FG, 0-8 from 3 (8-11 FT) finished with 16 points (L)

3/7 @ CHA: 8-22 FG, 2-11 from 3 (12-14 FT) finished with 30 points (L)

As you can see, somehow the Rockets are managing to win some of the games in which their best player shot poorly. I’ve only included seven games on this list, but there were nearly 20 games in which Harden had similar numbers.

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From a total of18 similar games, the Rockets have a record of 9-9. Too often, Harden has been shooting the Rockets out of a victory. Houston could easily have a better record and higher seeding come playoff time if it weren’t for such games.

When the season was cut short, the Rockets were the sixth seed with a record of 40-24. If Harden shot better in four of these games and the Rockets won, they would be tied for the second seed in the Western Conference.

Do you see how important efficient play from the team’s best player is? Jumping from the sixth seed to the second is a huge difference-maker, especially when it pertains to playoff matchups.

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Yes, Harden has also had fantastic games, such as the 59-point game against the Wizards, the 60-point outburst against the Hawks, the 55-point game against the Cavaliers and the 54-point game against the Magic.

But, for someone of Harden’s caliber, the negatives outweigh the positives. Harden is a top 5-7 player in the league with everyone healthy.

For the former MVP to have shooting performances like this during a season is unacceptable, despite putting up good averages per game.

The switch to small ball has benefited Russell Westbrook this year, who happened to turn out being the best player on the Rockets this season. As for James Harden, since the small ball move, he has been shooting 42 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from three.

Grade: B-

The pick-and-roll with Clint Capela helped Harden’s game, but now that Capela is in Atlanta and Houston has no real starting-caliber center on the roster, Harden has had trouble adjusting to the new system. But, that’s no excuse.

From the start of the season to the suspension, Harden was able to put the ball in the basket but not efficiently. Those shooting numbers are hard to ignore when grading The Beard for his play this season.

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Even though he has established himself as a superstar, he doesn’t get a pass for this season.

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