Player Report Cards: James Harden

Scott Halleran

A series appraising the entire Rockets roster and the crew calling the shots behind the scenes.

The offseason has been in Houston now for quite some time. The Rockets fell to the Thunder who in turn was eventually toppled by the Grizzlies. At the very least I gain some sort of sick satisfaction that the Knicks were knocked out by the Pacers. I'm back from my hiatus and I think you guys deserve some new content (Not two week old pieces I wrote, not 2 year old recycled stories that the sports world still demands you read because you're living under a rock or have retrograde amnesia). Let's get the ball rolling with evaluations of the Rockets. Player and personnel report cards. Through this series you'll gain insight into the sheer amount of outrage I have over the Executive and Coach of the Year voting and an appraisal of the players on the roster.

I won't immediately jump into the volatile review of Jeremy Lin. Let's start with a point that we can all agree on, high five each other over, and appreciate; James "The Beard" Harden. James came to the Houston Rockets in his third season after being drafted third overall in 2009 much to the joy of one of TDS's favorites AK2themax. Harden enjoyed the role of bench player who isn't really much of a bench player for the Thunder. He was widely praised for catalyzing the Thunder's run to the NBA Finals and then widely maligned for disappearing against the Heat. He was due a rather large pay raise heading into this offseason and Sam Presti was faced with a decision: Pay Harden or pay Ibaka, not both. On the eve of my birthday, October 27, 2012 the Houston Rockets acquired James Harden for previous NBA superstar Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb (Moved clearly to reduce Jeremy/initial based confusion on the team).

The Numbers

James averaged 25.9 points/5.8 assists/4.9 rebounts/3.8 turnovers per game. These numbers are indicative of a superstar if I've seen one and James proved as much.

Let's peek a little further behind this curtain to see what made this so impressive, though. James Harden's usage shot up to 29% while is true shooting percentage only dropped by six one hundredths of a point (60%). What that means is James managed to become (essentially) thirty percent of a team's entire offense while still converting his possessions at a high rate. James did record a turnover percentage of 15%, however which translates to 15 turnovers per 100 plays. James accounted for 12.8 in win shares while bumping his minutes up to 38 minutes a game.

The Good

Scoring. Clearly. No one will have to endeavor to explain that to you. Harden showed some streakiness throughout the year settling on some jump shots and some dreadful step backs but for all the knit picking to hammer him on that, he certainly delivered despite those issues. Harden showed a complete scorer's toolkit with his ability to slash to the basket, hit the long-range jumper, and draw the foul. He's one of the few players on the team with an elite skill set in a particular area. There's no room for improvement here, he gets a strong grade here.

Grade: A+

The Bad

Defense. I won't go so far as to call him a sieve but I will certainly look at his 106 defensive rating (Points allowed per 100 possessions) both this season and on his career average are not as good as you could expect.

I will manufacture a bit of an excuse here for the simple fact that if James wasn't towing the offense so hard behind him I think you can pour more of yourself into defense. James certainly didn't make us forget about Kevin Martin defensively but he's got the kind of body that can bother other shooting guards. Funny enough James showed a lot of improvement when he was tasked with guarding opposing small forwards, which implies that Harden struggles with the speed of his peers. It's funny considering his offensive prowess that his reading and reaction of offensive players in order to defend them is that lacking.

I did have a runner up consideration here and it's going to prompt some discussion; fitting within the offense. Yes, the term "hero ball" is a pet peeve of mine ever since Dave made it a mainstay on this site because it's been an abused term. Yes, I know that the mentality exists and that there's some merit to the theory. I also happen to believe that when you've got a player ready to establish himself as the superstar to a team you learn to live with those headaches. But James showed a fair amount of trouble understanding that from time to time you have to facilitate or move the ball rather than put the weight of the world on your shoulders.

Grade: C+

The Ugly

Turnovers. James doled the ball out to the opposing team nearly as much as he did to his own. Harden was a poster child for the risky skip pass since he came into the league and it didn't backfire nearly as much as it did this season. Unfortunately the revelation that throwing a basketball clear across the court to a player wasn't a high percentage pass was slow to come to our marquee player. The turnover issue was compounded by the fact that Harden was frequently stripped in the lane on drives where whistles were absent.

Grade: D-

Overall

I don't know if it's that I'm cutting him slack for the role he occupies on the team or if he has so much extra credit stored up due to his offense that his grade comes out the way it does but he's clearly going to score high. James desperately needs to work on taking the ball to the hole stronger, passing up the skip pass, and feeling the rhythm of the offense if it's bogging down. In an ideal world James would have reliable offensive help to allow him to spend some time on defense and this offseason very well may make that happen.

Ultimately the atrocious turnovers, defense, and trouble finding a rhythm forced that A+ (If we're realistic we're talking A+++) for his offense gets dragged down to...

Grade: A-

Enjoy talking in the comments, tweet at me at @QuestionablyBD, email questions or suggestions for future columns to TDSmailbag@gmail.com and potential employers, please assume that this isn't what I turned in on my CV.

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