Three of three: James Harden


James Harden is the last of the upper echelon of the shooting guard position. Topping off the first three of Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, and himself Harden is arguably the most efficient scorer of all three. The way that he fills the bucket up with so few shots in such little time has always been a major skill of his. Even when he in Oklahoma City, his true shooting percentage was that of historical proportion. He shot 66% TS last season–that puts him in the top 25 for a single season in that category.

That was in only his third year as a pro and as a 6th man as well. This season, as a starter, he’s doing the same thing but with more time. If there was ever a superstar player in the making, Harden would be that guy. His all around skill and versatility is something that is invaluable to NBA  GMs everywhere.

What he does well

On only 17.7 shots per game, James Harden has scored 26.3 points per game this season. His three point shooting is down this season–he’s only shooting 33% from beyond the arch as opposed to 39 from last year–but he’s shooting nearly 10 free throws per game. He’s averaging 9.9 shots from the free throw line this season and he’s making 8.5 of those per game. That’s 85% from the charity stripe.

His game is one that doesn’t rely on the midrange area of the floor. Rather, he’ll drive into the paint more often or shoot a three. That’s why Harden’s game is one of the most efficient in the league. He’s eliminated the most inefficient and difficult shot from his game–the midrange jump shot. Pull up jumpers inside the arch can be valuable but rarely are players as good as Harden wide open when they take them. Take a look at James Harden’s shot chart on the year. Notice how much of a concentration there is at the rim and on the outside.

Harden’s lack of a game in the middle doesn’t hamper his play one bit. That’s because he’s one of the best in the league–if not the best–at slithering into the paint and drawing fouls. According to 82games, Harden has been fouled on 20.6% of his field goal attempts including shooting fouls drawn. When he drives into the paint he shows the ball to the defense by swinging it out in front of him with his long arms. That 6’10 wingspan that Harden has makes it harder for the opposition to smack the ball out of his hands and he ends up getting fouled in the process.

Another aspect of him drawing fouls is his herky-jerky style of play. James Harden is one of the best players at stopping and starting on a dime–especially off of the pick and roll. He keeps defenders guessing with his pressure dribbles and that’s how he draws the contact. He’ll have defenders trying to take the ball from him and running into him because of his constant starting and stopping.

Take a look at this video below. You’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.

The way that he just slides to the hoop and finishes in the paint is just amazing. He may be the best in the league at doing it–other than LeBron James. Harden is just a man among boys at finishing. And he’s so quick when he does it, too. Take a look at this video.

Harden’s favorite play is running the high screen at the top of the arch and having guys spot up around him–preferably shooters. He’s a great drive and kick passer because the defense just collapses on him each time he takes the ball to the whole. Its a very simple yet efficient play for James and it’s one of the main staples in Houston’s high powered offense. Harden gets 1.08 points per possession off of the pick and roll. That ranks 1st in the NBA. 24.8% of his scoring opportunity comes from there.

He also is killer in transition. That’s probably when he’s at his best. According to Synergy Sports Technology, 21.4% of Harden’s scoring chances come from in transition. He gets 1.33 points per possession in transition. The defense is so scrambled he always finds some way to get to the rim and finish there. He shoots 62% in transition opportunities, gets a shooting foul 15.2% of the time, and also has 15 and-one attempts there on the year out of 42 total and-one chances on the season.

The Bad

Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. That’s the thing that worries me the most about James Harden’s game. He turns the ball over a lot. He’s averaging 3.7 turnovers per game which is way too many. The Rockets are in the top 5 of turnovers per game and he takes up a bulk of their scoring possessions. James Harden has to handle the ball more carefully, but the way that his game is predicated it can lead to high turnovers.

Its fundamentally incorrect to bait the opponent into fouls by showing them the ball, however, Harden makes it effective. If he’s ever having an off night it can lead to a high turnover game. That’s a huge inconvenience for the Rockets offense because it loses them offensive possessions and can slow the game down. The Rockets are among the league leaders in pace this season. That’s the way that they’re comfortable playing basketball. If they can’t play that way then their offense will be hampered.

Possibly the worst thing that James Harden does is defend. He’s one of the laziest defenders that I’ve watched all season long. Last night against Dallas, there was a sequence where he walked back on defense and allowed a wide open three. That’s something that he’s done all season long and its obviously a negative to his game. He allows opposing shooting guards a 14.8 PER all season long which isn’t very good. You would want that number to be somewhere between nine or 10 to really be effective.

Overall, Harden is one of the better shooting guards in the league and within three years he could be the best. He’s an efficient player on offense and has a very effective strategy when it comes to that side of the game. The defensive side should come with time, but it needs some major tweaking and improving. His lateral quickness on the defensive end isn’t ideal and his PnR defending isn’t anywhere near where it should be. He ball watches a lot and has too many bad habits that he needs to phase out of his game.

Big thanks to, Synergy Sports, and basketball-reference for their wonderful stats and video


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