Rockets Lead

What Harden’s Recent Slump Means for Houston

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Houston, we may have a problem.

Shortly after the deal that cemented the Rockets’ commitment to the small-ball system, things seemed to be working out well for James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and the rest of the team. Houston was boasting a historically-efficient offense, while maintaining a respectable top-10 league-wide Defensive Rating since the trade. More recently, though, that success seems to have been an anomaly, as Harden and crew have started to fall behind on both ends of the floor.

RECENT STRUGGLES

In the Rockets’ last five games, Harden is averaging a measly 25 points per contest on some rather atrocious shooting splits for his standards (31.7% from the field, 20.3% from distance), all while posting a -7.0 Net Rating (103.1 OFF, 110.1 DEF, via stats.nba.com). These poor statistics, among many others, are causing Rockets fans to ask one simple question: What is wrong with James Harden?

While the question itself is straight forward, finding the answers to it is a much more difficult task.  During the Rockets’ recent skid, he’s shot 72 jumpers, converting on a staggering 19 of those– 12 being three-point shots (via stats.nba.com). Harden is widely known as one of the league’s deadliest shot makers off the dribble, so this uncharacteristic stretch has Rockets fans scratching their heads.

WHY IS IT HAPPENING?

With the lack of a true pick-and-roll big on the team now, Harden has had to work a lot harder for his shots due to the Rockets’ reliance on both him and Westbrook creating looks for the rest of the team. The strange thing, though, is the fact that most of the shots the former-MVP has been taking recently are shots that… he’s always taken, and converted on more often than he has recently. They’re by no means out of the ordinary for the league’s leading scorer. But, with the team struggling as a whole lately, defenses are able to focus much more on Harden and Westbrook and live with other Rockets making the occasional three-point shot, which is not something that teams have had to worry about lately, with Houston ranking 29th in the league in three-point percentage in their last five games at 28.7%.

Based on the eye test alone, Harden’s level of effort in his past five games has been extremely questionable. In the recent loss against the Hornets, Harden notched an unofficial quadruple-double, totaling 30 points, 10 rebounds, 14 assists and 10 turnovers in that contest, a figure he hasn’t reached since January 11th against the Timberwolves, where he had 11 turnovers (stats.nba.com). There have been multiple occasions where Harden is missing multiple free throws at a time, which is extremely uncharacteristic. He’s also been settling for far too many step back jumpers, which defenses have become much more capable of guarding due to their increased frequency lately.

CONCERNS MOVING FORWARD

There was a time where Harden was capable of destroying defenders in the mid-range, particularly at the elbow. Because D’Antoni insists that the mid-range jumper is the worst shot in basketball, Harden shoots little to none of them anymore, allowing defenses to key-in on containing him at the rim, or pressing him along the arc. As a player that is as skilled as anybody, Harden is being severely limited by the coaching philosophies of D’Antoni. If this continues any longer, we might just have to witness another extremely disappointing early playoff exit if things aren’t figured out swiftly.

The James Harden that we are seeing as of late is extremely concerning with April quickly approaching. The Rockets currently sit at 39-24, 6th overall in the Western Conference standings. There is certainly not much time left for the two-time scoring champ to, well, figure out how to score again. If it doesn’t happen soon, it might end up being too little, too late.

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About Zach Davis

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