Numbers show playoff officiating has hampered James Harden, Rockets

James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
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Houston Rockets
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

How Harden Used to Get More Calls in OKC

There is an inclination to chalk this trend of swallowing whistles up to the old moniker of “playoff basketball,” the idea that the refs, “let the boys play,” in the postseason, but that does not line up with reality. The league average of free throw rate in the playoffs has eclipsed the mark set in the regular season every year since Harden came to Houston, usually by over five percent.

If the tide was truly raising all boats, then James Harden would have also expected to see a bump in his production. Somehow, the best player in the league at getting to the line got worse in the postseason as everyone else got better.

By not getting to the line as often each in playoffs, Harden lost out on approximately 99 points. Those 99 points would raise his Houston playoff scoring average from 28.2 to 29.6 points per game, which is also his regular-season points per game with Houston.

Since Harden has been in Houston, the narrative has been one of a player whose offensive game simply does not translate to the postseason. For all of the conjecture, Harden repeatedly took the Golden State Warriors, one of the greatest teams in history, to the brink while simultaneously having his most crucial offensive ability blunted.

What’s curious is that before Harden arrived in Houston, he saw his ability to get to the line improve in the postseason. In the 2010 playoffs while on the Oklahoma City Thunder, James saw a whopping 48 percent increase in his free throws attempted rate from the regular season. The following two playoffs, he increased by 15 percent and 0.34 percent, respectively.

This means that while his FTAr went up by an average of over 20 percent in each of his three years with Oklahoma City, his FTAr has decreased by an average of 13.7 percent since he has become a Rocket.

The Rockets go as James Harden goes. For years, the roster has been a revolving door of pieces attempting to fit around Harden’s singular offensive genius. Each new iteration of the Rockets has unlocked another offensive level for Harden. The supporting cast has hardly mattered because his real running mate has always been the whistle.

Simulating a series between the title teams. Next

Harden composes and conducts referees like Mozart conducted an orchestra. His pumping and flailing inspire the beautiful chirps that power one of the most impressive scorers in history. The Rockets’ postseason success, for better or worse, will come down to the whistles of the referees come this year’s playoffs.