The NBA season is only eight games old for the Houston Rockets, but All-Star guard James Harden already has Rockets fans licking their lips. This off-season, the Rockets coaching staff, led by Mike D’Antoni, made the interesting decision to move Harden to point guard. Having spent his whole NBA career as a shooting guard, Harden has shown that he is more than capable of playing the point guard role. Harden is currently averaging 30.6 points and 13 assists per game. That’s an impressive stat line, and it is currently covering up the fact that Harden is struggling.
James Harden Is Not an Elite Point Guard
Harden is a Turnover Machine
When you average 30 or more points and six or more assists per game, you automatically enter the MVP conversation. No one can deny that Harden is a great talent, having played at an All-Star level for the last four years. However, when you break Harden down and really look at the numbers, you begin to realize that he’s not an elite point guard. Harden is averaging an enormous 5.6 turnovers per game. As a point guard in the NBA, a player cannot lead his team to any level of success while turning the ball over so often.
Now, you may think that this is just Harden adjusting to his new position, but don’t expect the trend to stop anytime soon. For the last two seasons, Harden has averaged at least four turnovers per game while playing the shooting guard role. If Harden were to play with a bit more care, he and the Rockets could have more success. Of course, Harden isn’t the only point guard playing with reckless abandon. The likes of Russell Westbrook and John Wall also have trouble taking care of the ball. Westbrook is currently averaging 5.6 turnovers per game and Wall is at 5.3. Any time a player averages above three turnovers, there is a problem. The perfect example of sensible point guard play is Chris Paul. Averaging just 1.8 per game so far this season, Paul sets an example that all point guards should follow.
Filling the stat sheet is good and all, but with Harden giving the ball away so cheaply, the Rockets will struggle as the season goes on. So far, Harden’s Rockets have faced three teams that made the playoffs last season. They lost two out of those three games. In the last two games alone, Harden has turned the ball over 16 times. Turning the ball over eight times is a single game is unforgivable. Harden has done so three times already this season. The Rockets have won all three of those games, but it’s only a matter of time before Harden begins to cost Houston wins.
Mike D’Antoni is Good and Bad For Harden
Mike D’Antoni is a great offensive head coach. He’s best known for coaching the “seven seconds or less” offense in Phoenix and helping Steve Nash win two MVP awards. D’Antoni was brought in this summer and will attempt to take Houston back to the playoffs. It’s no surprise that Harden is putting up big numbers in D’Antoni’s offense, as the scheme heavily favors point guards. More responsibility means more points and assists. Harden is putting up astronomical numbers, but not all of the stats are flattering.
As Harden’s career goes on, he appears to have more control of this Houston team. When Harden was a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, he was the third-best player on the team. In his last season in Oklahoma, Harden averaged just 2.2 turnovers. This was mainly due to Westbrook and the then-beloved Kevin Durant running things for the Thunder. So as Harden is seeing more of the ball, his scoring numbers are going up, but his turnovers are following suit.
James Harden is a great offensive player. Having the ability to shoot, pass, and use some of the best footwork in the association is rare. So you can see why Harden is an All-Star, but whether or not he can have team success is a whole other question. The opening game of the season is the perfect example of why Harden is struggling. Harden put up an impressive 34 points and 17 assists against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Rockets would still go on to lose the game 114-120. Harden finished with 7 turnovers and shot just 1-7 from beyond the arc. This poor decision-making arguably cost the Rockets the win. It’s fair to say, at this point, that Harden has the talent to be on the same level as Paul and others, but is yet to reach that point at this time in his career.
Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) is fouled by Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. where the Houston Rockets defeated the Washington Wizards, 99-91. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)