Rockets: Identifying James Harden’s biggest struggle in the playoffs

Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Houston Rockets star James Harden is not a reputable playoff performer. But what aspect of his game actually suffers the most in the postseason?

Some go as far as to call him a choker. Others, including Houston Rockets fans, believe the criticism is over-exaggerated, but that there is some truth to it. Whatever degree of judgement you pass on James Harden’s playoff performances, his reputation in the postseason is not what it is in the regular season.

But what is it about Harden’s game that suffers so much in the playoffs? There are a few statistics you can look at, but they all are rooted in one: his 3-point shooting percentage.

Many fans look at his points per game and his field goal percentage when assessing Harden’s playoff performance, so we’ll do the same here. During Harden’s tenure with the Rockets, he’s averaged 29.6 points on 44.2 percent shooting overall, 36.2 percent from three, and 50.9 percent shooting within the arc.

Identifying Rockets’ James Harden’s biggest concern in the playoffs

In the playoffs, those figures have translated to averages of 28.2 points on 41.2 percent overall shooting, 32.2 percent from three, and made 48.4 percent of his 2-pointers. The largest discrepancy here is in his 3-point percentage, with a drop of four percent.

The numbers show us that Harden’s scoring performance in the postseason remains pretty consistent in regards to his points per game and 2-point percentage, with only slight drop-offs occurring in those statistics. The drop in his field goal percentage is a direct consequence of his drop in 3-point percentage.

Also remaining consistent are his numbers in other major statistical categories. In the same time span, his averages in assists go from 7.7 in the regular season to seven in the postseason, his rebounds drop from six in the regular season to 5.7 in the postseason, his steals go from 1.8 to two, and his turnovers go from 4.4 to 4.5. As you can see, the differences are minimal.

An argument could be made that his scoring has seen a larger discrepancy from the regular season to the postseason in the last handful of years, compared to his overall tenure with the Houston Rockets. The counter-argument to that would be that he is attempting far more threes in these last few years than he was in some of his earlier seasons with the team.

Consequentially, if he is taking more threes and his decrease in 3-point percentage is still occurring, then the difference in his scoring will, of course, be more dramatic. Thus it is all still tied to his 3-point shooting.

There have certainly been moments in Harden’s playoff career that Houston fans would rather forget. But the only actual trend moments like these consistently point to is his diminished 3-point shooting.

Next. Analyzing the Rockets' revamped offense in the bubble

If the Beard can reasonably address this one major flaw in his playoff game, it will show in his other related statistics and the Rockets will stand a much better chance of fulfilling their championship aspirations.