After a week and a half of wallowing in my own Damian Lillard-induced sadness, I’m finally beginning to look at the 2013-14 Houston Rockets season with clarity. While there’s no doubt the Rockets disappointed all their fans in the postseason, the truth is that this team was at least one season away from contention going into the year.
Daryl Morey’s master plan isn’t complete, and whatever that methodical numbers enthusiast is planning this summer, I have no doubt that Houston will enter next season with a chance at capturing its first title since 1995. This week, I’ll be dishing out season grades for all of Houston’s rotational players. First up is James Harden.
2013-14 Regular Season Statistics (73 games)
25.4 PPG, 6.1 APG, 4.7 RPG, 1.6 STLPG, 3.6 TPG, 46/37/87
Advanced: 12.8 WS, 23.5 PER, 53% EFG, 62% TS, 24.4% USG
Postseason Statistics (Six Games):
26.8 PPG, 5.8 APG, 4.7 RPG, 2.0 STLPG, 3.5 TPG, 38/30/90
Advanced: 18.4 PER, 44% EFG, 52% TS, 28.5 USG%
The Nerd’s Perspective (By the Numbers): The 2013-14 season has showed us what we’re going to see from Harden during his prime years. He gets to the free throw line constantly (576 made free throws, second in the league), he’s a top-flight scorer (fifth in the league), he’s a great passer for an elite scorer (second in the NBA in assists for non-PGs) and the advanced statistics show that he’s very efficient (fifth in the league in TS).
Every relevant statistic points to Harden being an elite No. 1 option in the NBA, despite the fact that he was inefficient in the playoffs. Harden was ninth in the league in usage percentage during the 2012-13 season, but he failed to rank inside the top 20 during 2013-14, meaning that his teammates played a larger part in the offense without his statistics taking a hit. The Beard was fourth in the league in offensive win shares, finishing behind only Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Kevin Love.
Although defense is a major concern for Harden, his defensive win shares actually pin him as an above-average defender, finishing 55th in the NBA. Going forward, it’s important to remember that Harden’s 3-point shot is the most vital part of his game. Before December 31, Harden shot just 30 percent from distance. In those 27 games, he averaged 23.4 points and 5.4 assists on 44 percent shooting. From New Year’s Eve on, Harden’s production took off, averaging 26.5 points and 6.5 assists on 46 percent shooting overall. Not surprisingly, Harden shot the three ball at 40 percent during that stretch.
The Bare-Bones Basketball Perspective (The Eye Test): The Beard’s season came full circle during the playoffs. He struggled early in the year with finding his own offensive rhythm and getting teammates involved, which led to him shooting poorly from 3-point land and the Rockets being absolutely bipolar. A lot of people laid blame on Harden during the early part of the season for Houston’s average play, but they seem to forget how the 2012-13 season went, when Harden was expected to do everything for the team and was the only guy who could consistently create a shot.
Obviously, when you go from being the only guy who can create shots to being one of a few, it takes a little time to adjust your game. Right around Christmas, when Harden started to make his long-range shots, the team finally figured out its spacing in both pick-and-roll and post-up situations, leading to a dramatic improvement.
Unfortunately, when the playoffs came around, Harden reverted back to his early-season form. He struggled with his 3-point shot, leading the team, staying active and making clutch shots. For the team, the playoffs were disastrous, but for Harden, those six games can be used as building blocks for the future.
On the whole, this season proved that Harden is an all-time great scorer. He’s playing in an ultra-competitive era and he’s one of only a handful of dominant scorers. He’s a creative passer and a slow-footed defender. While I’ve heard several analysts say that he has the tools to be a great defender, I strongly disagree. He’s not too athletic by NBA standards and he lacks length and foot speed. His regular season, especially the second half, was a great success, although the ending was just downright depressing.
However, maybe that’s what Harden needs to get himself into the best shape of his life and turn the corner as a playmaker and defender.
Season Grade: A-
Playoff Grade: C-