This season for the Rockets has been very well documented and scrutinized throughout the year. They started off slow, got it together for a bit, and then Chris Paul went down and James Harden began a run of offensive dominance never before seen in NBA history. For a refresher, since Chris Paul went down on 12/20 in a game against the Heat, Harden has been a man possessed averaging 43.1 PPG 8.3 APG 7.6 RPG 1.9 SPG and 1.1 BPG in 15 games. He’s doing this taking nearly 29 shots, 17 threes, and 14 free throws per night, all while angering the collective NBA world to no end. Here are some of the highlights from this incredible stretch of basketball from Harden.
He’s done things we haven’t seen in this league since Wilt and when you take a step back and really look at what he’s done, it’s remarkable.
Now I know that Wilt’s era is regularly besmirched for talent level and such but when you’re throwing around numbers that haven’t been seen in this league since WILT, you’re doing some groundbreaking things.
During a stretch where CP3 is out and now Capela is going to be shelved for a bit, he’s done it with a cast of characters. Guys like James Ennis, Gerald Green, Danuel House, Gary Clark (???), James Nunnally (no disrespect but WHO?), and a slew of other 10-day contract guys. He’s single handedly winning the Rockets games in a loaded conference (10-5 since the CP3 injury) and that is the most shocking thing about all of this.
Everybody has an opinion on Harden and his innovative style of play. They say it’s ruining the game, it isn’t how basketball is supposed to be played, he draws cheap fouls, he couldn’t do this in passed iterations of the NBA, and so on, and so on, and so on. Every single day perusing the Twitter-Sphere you will see countless tweets either lauding Harden for what he’s doing, or completely criticizing it. People get even more angry when the Kobe/Harden comparisons get thrown out there and are disgusted that you would even consider comparing Harden to such NBA royalty.
I am here to tell you that, no matter how you really feel about it, it’s ok to recognize Harden as maybe the best offensive player this league has seen. While it is unorthodox and infuriating to watch at times, it is what it is. It’s greatness and the ability Harden has to exploit how fouls are called and completely change how defenses defend is notable. I was curious to see how Harden’s numbers stacked up to other seasons and if any have matched his level of effectiveness during this first half of the year. The criteria I searched were 30+ points, 8+ assists, 6+ rebounds, and 1.5+ steals. This is what it spit out at me:
Jordan and Westbrook when he averaged a triple double (for the first time when it was cool) were all that came out. That query shrinks substantially when you up that point total to 35+ as it’s just Harden. Basically, he’s doing something that has never been seen in the NBA before and is still being questioned. I get it, watching him kick his feet out and contort his body to draw fouls isn’t the most enjoyable thing to watch, but it works. It’s not even that he’s taking the best shots, it’s that he’s taking the right shots. Harden hurls up a ton of threes and he gets to the free throw line. He’s the only player in NBA history to average more than 10 threes and more than 10 free throws per night (last season and this season). This distribution of shots makes it so he doesn’t even have to wildly efficient in terms of shooting percentage because he’ll make it up either at the line, or with threes.
He’s also no slouch as a passer as he ranks 4th in the NBA in assists per game with 8.3. Teams can’t just focus on his scoring as he’s one of the best in the game at driving hard to the lane and whipping a pass out to a wide open shooter. He ranks 5th in the NBA in points created (points that come from his assists) at 20.4 per night. So if you were to add his PPG and Points Created Per Game together you would get a total of 56.1 points that Harden is involved in per night. The Houston Rockets average 112.2 points per night. Harden is responsible for HALF OF THEM. What a reckless statistic that is and it shows how staggering his performance has been this year.
In a league where shooting is the fad, every team is pretty similar in terms of their efficiency and basically it’s: if you’re the better shooting team, you have the best chance to win. Harden is trumping this narrative by finding a loophole of sorts where his team still has a chance to win while not shooting as efficiently. It’s genius and you have to give him the credit he deserves. Is he fun to watch? Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. Is he one of, if not the best, offensive players of all time? Yes. Yes 100 times. Yes a 1000 times.
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