James Harden's Unsustainable Magic

By Ian Jacoby
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Dwayne WadeJames Harden?

That’s a list of the only people in the last 25 years to score 37 points, make 12 assists, grab seven rebounds, four steals and one block in a single game.

Given that nugget of basketball knowledge it’s understandable that Harden was awarded the NBA’s Western Conference Player of the Week for the first week of play. Especially considering that after that game, the Houston Rockets new-star went into Atlanta and scored 45, and that two days later he posted 24 in Houston.

The question that needs addressing isn’t about Harden’s talent. We know he has plenty of that, as displayed by his first three stellar games. Just look at those numbers.

It isn’t about his heart. We know he plays with a ton of effort. Look at last year’s western conference finals when he was a key factor in leading the Oklahoma City Thunder back from a 0-2 deficit against the seemingly unstoppable San Antonio Spurs. Look at the Rockets first few games.

No, the question on the minds of Rockets fans is sustainability. Will James Harden be able to continue this run of incredible scoring?

In short, probably not, but that doesn’t mean that he will be a disappointment by any means. The simple fact of the matter, is that when you start the first three games of the season averaging a league-high 35 points per game on 40 minutes a night, there’s going to be a regression to the mean.

Harden was averaging about 30 minutes per night when playing in OKC and the effects of fatigue were visibly noticeable during the Rockets overtime loss to Portland on November 3rd. That jump of 10 extra minutes a night is going to take its toll on Harden at the beginning of the season.

Furthermore, I have a theory that would further support Harden’s eventual scoring regression. Not a regression to averages that would make him unworthy of his $80 million contract, just away from the Jordan-like numbers he’s put up so far.

I think Harden was trying to prove a point. He’s got a chip on his shoulder, and rightfully so. Over the first three games you could see him immediately fill the alpha-dog shoes for the Rockets. There was no question about who was going to try and get to the basket first.

Harden told Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski that he was truly hurt by the 1-hour deadline to consider a $54 million contract-offer given to him by the Thunder. Maybe that had some psychological impact on his effort. Fuel for the fire.

Perhaps Harden was trying to prove to Thunder GM Sam Presti that he was worth $80 million. Every time he drained a contested three or got to the line off a crafty move, it’s though he was saying “Hey, Sam… big mistake. HUGE!”

He pretty-woman’d Sam Presti.

Harden might not have a season average of 35 points per game, and there’s no way they can continue to play him for 40 minutes a night. We shouldn’t expect that, it’s unreasonable.

However, given what we’ve seen so far, the impact that his presence will have on the Rockets this season won’t regress one bit. Everyone knows who the top dog is, and he’s ready for that role.

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