James Harden has been on a personal tour de force, scoring lots of points, capitalizing on Mike D’Antoni’s high percentage shot system. But one must wonder if the ghost’s of Harden’s playoff past will return to blank his historical run. Harden hasn’t scored a point below 30 since December 11, and his play has spearheaded the Rockets back into contention. In a sense, it’s been Harden, then the rest of the NBA.
What makes his offensive run more impressive is that it’s been in the absence of Chris Paul. But, burnout in the NBA is real. Harden and Russell Westbrook are the head of the offense, and everything runs through them. But both are prone to huge numbers in the regular season and shooting their teams out of the post-season.
Harden scoring 50 plus points on 35 plus shots is great on paper. Can Harden sustain that in a five-seven game series against the Warriors again? Last year determined he couldn’t when the chips counted on him to do so.
In Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors, Harden posted a shooting stat line of 12-29, scoring 32 points. His volume of shots and scoring output would be a standard night for Harden currently. But he went 2-13 from three-point shooting. Although he was doing it without Chris Paul as he is now, it appeared he ran out of gas.
But this year, it has somewhat a different feeling. Harden has always been a scoring machine, and his production from a usage rate has always been high. But a whole month plus of nothing short of 30 point games, while averaging 43.6 points per game the last 10 games is a remarkable feat. The Rockets are winning too, going 6-4 in those 10 games, 13-5 since his last non-30 point game.
But 13-5 with a productive streak James Harden is displaying doesn’t scream out long term success. Part anomaly, part possible burnout. And his less-than-stellar 42.6% shooting doesn’t match well with the number of shots attempted statistically. While Harden is having a spectacular run, it’s difficult to not point out where his usage rate (38.8, leads the league) and his shot attempts (23.4, also leads the league) plays a huge part in his numbers appearing the way they do.
Because ultimately, getting into NBA Playoff form is the hope for contenders such as the Rockets. The playoffs, for any sport, boils down to coaching and study. If teams can get Harden to take 30 plus shots while missing more than half, they will gladly take him scoring 30-40 points with help from the foul line.
For example, Harden scored 38 points against the Orlando Magic on January 13 but shot 1-17 from three. The stat line became a footnote only for tying the NBA record for the number of misses from three in NBA history. But it’s hard to imagine Harden bouncing back from a similar line in the postseason. Even with Chris Paul returning, team’s will key in on Harden’s inefficiencies. Thus, being a target will possibly put Harden in familiar territory-attempting to do it all.
In the end, it isn’t the NBA Playoff’s just yet so it’s best to just enjoy the Harden experience in its essence. But it’s difficult to ignore the road that potentially lies ahead once again. We’ve seen similar numbers and production the past two regular seasons, with similar results to conclude his playoff run. Yes, Harden is likely due for another MVP at the end of this NBA regular season, which will be well-deserved. But gaudy stats don’t reach the importance of efficiency in the NBA Playoffs. LeBron James, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are examples of that. We will see if Harden can alter the course of his previous history this Spring.