I remember reading Tom Haberstroh back when he was at Hoop Data, one of my personal favorite NBA web sites. Sadly, ESPN snatched him up before I could make him a multi-million-dollar offer to come write for us. C'est la vie.
In any case, most of what Haberstroh writes falls under the ESPN Insider paywall, so unless you have Insider, you don't get a chance to read his stuff very often. Well, I'm here to try to swing some smartness in your direction, because Haberstroh's latest piece is on James Harden.
Patrick noted earlier this year that Harden's production without either Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant on the floor was very good. But we never saw the numbers when Harden was by himself as an alpha dog. We leave it to Haberstroh to reveal to us the good news.
By himself, Harden was even better.
What was Harden's scoring rate when he was the clear No. 1 option last season?
Try 32.6 points per 36 minutes.
You read that correctly; when defenses keyed in on Harden as the No. 1 option, Harden responded by scoring like Michael Jordan, and he shot 53 percent from the floor in these situations. Plus, it gets better: Harden dished out 6.2 assists per 36 minutes, up from his normal rate of 4.3 assists. And remember, he was racking up all those assists by feeding the likes of Royal Ivey, Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed.
Here's a handy graph to let you compare Harden's stats depending on who surrounded him (click to enlarge):
Okay, I know what you're thinking: All of those minutes came against second-tier lineups, right?
Not exactly. Haberstroh filtered out the minutes against good lineups and bad lineups and came up with 106 minutes that Harden played by himself on the floor against quality NBA players. Here's what Haberstroh found from those 106 minutes:
Let's peel off another layer and look at Harden's production as a No. 1 option against good lineups.
Somehow, Harden did even better against tougher competition: He scored 35.0 points every 36 minutes and shot 50.8 percent from the floor, including an eye-popping 48 percent from beyond the arc. It's not surprising that Harden took more shots as an alpha dog, but he maintained a stellar efficiency while shouldering the load against quality opponents. That's what makes him a star.
I'm pretty excited about this James Harden, you guys.