Happy New Years everyone!
October 28, 2012. A tremor encompassed the entire league. Transactions involving a star usually occur when he is disgruntled and desires to play elsewhere. Stunningly that was not the case here. Following a coming to age Finals appearance, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s young core seemed to be as cohesive and tight-knit as Ted Mosby and Marshall Eriksen. Yet a lack of future financial flexibility forced Thunder General Manager Sam Presti to sadly dismantle its promising foundation by trading away bearded super-sub James Harden. Oklahoma City proved its mettle in the upcoming season though by capturing the number one seed in the Western Conference. But what about the team who received the services of the former Arizona State star?
The Houston Rockets were desperately searching for a captain to command the ship ever since Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming’s skills started to deteriorate. After wheeling and dealing to accumulate enough pieces and cap space to be able to provide an appealing offer to Orlando for Dwight Howard in the 2012 offseason, the Rockets fell short once again. Although they possessed cap space to chase an alpha dog in the 2013 free agency, it seemed like Houston would have to traverse the depths of a rigorous NBA season without a superstar for yet another year. Then came a gift straight from the sky three days before the commencement of the new season. James Harden would be stylishly sporting the red and silver for the following five years. He then started his Rockets tenure with a bang louder than any gunshot in the Matrix, as he averaged 39 points, 7 assists, and 6.5 rebounds in his first two games. So Houston finally attained their commander, right?
Surprisingly all evidence points to the contrary. Yes, Harden is a superior offensive talent who absolutely thrives at the rim. James has the 2nd highest field goal percentage out of the 15 guards who shoot the most within 5 feet of the rim. His ability to circumvent defenders with his exceptional ball handling and capability to finish around a plethora of bigger bodies make him an absolute terror in both penetration and in fast break. Also this skill forces the defense to collapse when Harden’s on the move, which he exploits by dishing it out to his open teammate. But unfortunately this is where the positives end for the bearded one.
Here we see Harden’s agility and ball handling allowing him to get around superior on ball defender Kawhi Leonard.That forces Tim Duncan to leave his man to cover Harden, and James is able to find the open Terrence Jones.
For as incredible as Harden is on offense, he possesses some glaring flaws on that side of the ball. Harden is certainly effective off the dribble, but is an overrated shooter. He doesn’t launch all that many shots from mid-range and is porous from beyond the arc. Harden is successful on only 31.3 percent of his attempts, good for 125th in the league. His misery from deep doesn’t do many favors for a team attempting to take advantage of the double teams sent to Dwight Howard. In addition if the ball is not in Harden’s possession, he is uninvolved in the play. His off ball movement is absolutely nonexistent. Lastly, Harden’s not the closer the public makes him out to be, as he shoots a ghastly 37% from the field in the last 5 minutes of a contest. Even still his offensive deficiencies do not begin to compare with his inadequacy on defense.
With Harden on the floor, the Rockets allow a miserable 101.5 points per every 100 possessions. This stems from his tendency to constantly allow ball handlers to drive right past him. Harden has a terrible habit to relinquish on his defensive assignment a little too soon when the ball handler is on the verge of blowing past him. He stops shifting his feet and just swings at the ball with the intent of knocking it out, something that is highly ineffective. His off ball defense is just as shoddy. On several instances, Harden is caught watching the ball and has his back facing the player he is guarding. Thus his man is able to break free and spring open with Harden unaware of his whereabouts. Keeping an eye on both the ball and one’s man at all times is truly basketball 101, and it’s absolutely ludicrous that a NBA talent like Harden fails at something so fundamental. Both of these breakdowns derive from a complete lack of effort. Harden is seen walking and watching his teammates battle for loose balls too many times. I think it’s time to start considering James Harden as a true one-way player.
Harrison Barnes gets right around Harden, and James employs his futile “swing at the ball” technique.
Last year, there was a strong notion that Harden has finally attained the throne as the league’s best shooting guard over both Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. In addition, the highly controversial NBA Rank, which is a ranking of NBA players from 500 to 1, listed Harden at number FOUR, right behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul. This is tremendous praise for a player whose performance doesn’t deserve so much merit. If Houston desires to transcend their middling stature in the Western Conference totem pole, they need to hope Harden improves and becomes a much more well-rounded player.