James Harden has been one of the best players in the NBA for the past four years. This year has been no different, as Harden is playing out of his mind thus far. Few players in the NBA make scoring look as easy as Harden does. Harden is currently averaging a career-high 31.7 points per game while shooting 45.8 percent from the field. In addition to scoring, Harden is averaging 9.7 assists, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game.
Harden has led his Houston Rockets to an 18-4 record, which is the second-best record in the NBA. The Rockets also have one of the best offenses in the league. With Harden running the show, this offense has become deadly. The team is currently scoring an average of 114.1 points per game, making them the second highest scoring team in the league. Harden is the force that drives this offense and makes everyone around him perform better.
James Harden has become one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA. Harden is doing some serious damage from behind the three-point line this season, hitting 4.5 threes per game. Currently, Harden is leading the entire NBA in both total three-pointers made and attempted. Harden has attempted 242 threes this season and has hit an impressive 98 (41%) of them. If Harden keeps this pace up, he is due to hit over 360 three-pointers by the end of the year. That would be the second most three-pointers ever hit in a season, behind only Stephen Curry who hit 402 three’s in the 2015-16 NBA season.
Half of the shots Harden takes every game are taken from inside the three-point line, so let’s see how his numbers stack up. When shooting from any distance within the three-point line, Harden connects on 51 percent of his shots. When shooting from 10-16 feet away from the rim, Harden makes 45 percent of his shots. However, less than 10 percent (7.9%) of Harden’s field goal attempts come from mid-range (10-16 feet).This may be because of the offensive system Harden is in. The Houston Rockets do not like to shoot many mid-range shots and would rather shoot a three-pointer instead.
Harden is very creative when running in transition and frequently makes his defenders look silly. His most notable move when attacking the paint is his patented euro-step. Harden is a great finisher, making 70 percent of the shots he attempts from 0-3 feet away from the rim. To put this number into perspective, Kyrie Irving, one of the best finishers in the league, shoots 69 percent around the rim. This shows that Harden is one of the most elite scorers inside the paint.
Harden has shown over the last two years that he is a gifted passer. Harden led the entire league in assists last season and is in second place this season. Combining the last two NBA seasons, Harden is averaging 10.9 assists per game. Harden displays phenomenal court vision everytime he steps on to the court and is exceptional at keeping his teammates involved in the game. It is obvious that Harden deliberately looks to get his teammates points first before he begins shooting the ball himself. This mentality has resulted in great team basketball by the Rockets and is a huge component to their success.
Since Harden is a shooting guard, rebounding isn’t exactly the most important thing to him. However, Harden does a good job of fighting for loose balls and tracking down rebounds. As a result, Harden averages exactly five rebounds a game for his career and has had one season in which he averaged over eight a game. Rebounding will never be the strongest part of Harden’s game, but he certainly has managed to become better than average for his position.
Harden has been mocked in the past for his lackadaisical defense. There is a six-minute video on Youtube showcasing all the times Harden has fallen asleep and been burned on defense. However, these clips are from years ago and are slightly misleading. The weakness in Harden’s game is not his defense as a whole, but rather it is his ability to play help-side defense. When isolated one on one, Harden is actually an above average defender. In fact, certain statistics would imply that he is the best isolation defender in the league.
James Harden is the best isolation defender in the NBA right now, per @SynergySST (minimum 25 possessions).
— Michael Pina (@MichaelVPina) November 30, 2017
The aspect of defense in which Harden struggles is playing off-ball defense. Harden often times falls asleep on defense and loses his man. This may be because Harden focuses too much on the player with the ball and doesn’t watch the man he is actually defending. There is no excuse for Hardens poor off-ball defense and it is one thing that will always hold him back.
Free Throw Shooting:
This is where Harden is at his best. James Harden leads the entire league in free throw makes and attempts. Harden scores an average of eight points per game off of his free throw shooting alone. Through 21 games this season, Harden has already attempted 201 free throws. Out of the 201 attempts, Harden has connected on 174 (85%) of them. Harden is the best in the league at drawing fouls and has turned shooting free throws into an art form. Whether you like it or not, Harden has a talent for getting to the free throw line.
James Harden has been playing great for the past four NBA seasons. At age 28, it is safe to assume we are seeing the peak years of Harden’s career. He has been sensational throughout his prime thus far, becoming one of the most efficient offensive players the NBA has ever seen. At this current pace, Harden is on track to be one of the best shooter guards of all time. However, it is uncertain how long Harden will be able to keep this level of play up. Harden is putting an immense toll on his body by playing so many minutes. Harden has played over 36 minutes a game in each of his last seven NBA seasons. At some point, these minutes are going to catch up to him.
This means that the time for Harden to win a championship is now. This is likely the best team that Harden will ever have in front of him and there is no telling how long the window for success will be open. The path will not be easy for Harden, as he will be forced to take on the juggernaut Golden State Warriors at some point in the playoffs. However, now that Harden is playing alongside superstar Chris Paul, Harden has no excuse to not provide a competitive series for the Warriors. It will be interesting to see if Harden can push the Rockets to the NBA Finals this season.
Outside Shooting: 20/20
Mid Range Shooting: 17/20
Interior Scoring: 17/20
Free Throw Shooting: 20/20