James Harden: Can He Take the Houston Rockets Places in the Future?


James Harden has taken the Houston Rockets places no one expected them to go this year. (Photo Credit: Angel Blue, Flickr.com)

When the Houston Rockets traded for James Harden, no one expected it to make the Rockets a good team or even a playoff team. However, Harden has completely changed those thoughts with a spectacular performance this year.

Harden has climbed into the MVP race and taken the Rockets places this year, as they are currently in seventh place in the Western Conference. For a team that was expected to rebuild around Jeremy Lin, Houston is exceeding expectations and headed for a playoff berth, something that was most definitely not expected this year.

Last year, in the NBA Finals, Harden did not perform up to par with the lofty expectations set by his performance in the Western Conference Finals and the 2011-12 season. He averaged a mere 12.4 points per game (PPG) in the Finals and he shot just 37.5 percent in the Finals. In the Western Conference Finals, Harden put up decent numbers, averaging 18.5 PPG and shooting 49.3 percent. Harden averaged 16.8 PPG last year and posted a stellar 21.13 player efficiency rating (PER), good for 30th in the league.

But none of those numbers compare to the ridiculous stats Harden has this year.

As the leader of the pack in Houston, Harden is fifth in the NBA with 26.4 PPG and fourth in the league with 15.3 estimated wins added (EWA). He is outside the top 10 in PER, but he is in 11th with a 23.63 PER (well above the league average of 15) and first among shooting guards with 5.9 assists per game. He has stepped up his passing skills and run the offense very well, as Houston is second in the league with a ridiculous average of 106.8 PPG.

The Rockets are in a tough conference, but they are excelling. Houston is 34-30 and about to pass the sixth-seeded Golden State Warriors, which they beat on Friday, March 8. Harden struggled mightily, but he still managed to drop 20 points and dish out 11 dimes in a crucial win for the Rockets. Chandler Parsons stepped up and dropped 26 points, but a lot of those points were due to Harden’s passing. In fact, Harden assisted on four of Parsons’ baskets in just the first quarter.

Having a player capable of running the offense has helped a lot and it’s allowed the Rockets to become a threat to good teams. Houston has a 3.2 point differential, meaning that they average 3.2 more PPG than their opponents. If Houston was in the Eastern Conference, its point differential would rank fourth. In the NBA, it ranks ninth.

A lot of that is due to Harden, who has been extremely valuable to the Rockets. Harden is among the best in the league in EWA, and he is leagues ahead of his teammates. Parsons is second on the team with just 5.6 EWA, so it’s safe to say Houston would be nowhere without Harden. Greg Smith is second on the team in PER, but he is 45th in the West and has an EWA of just 2.0.

With this kind of “talent” around him, it’s remarkable how well the Rockets have done. And it shows that the Rockets will go places in the future.

Parsons hasn’t been great this year, but he is an above-average player with a great shot (48.9 percent from the field and 69 percent from downtown in Houston’s last four games). When he’s on, he won’t miss, and that’s not good for opponents. As the team has played together more, chemistry has developed, and Harden has created more shots for Parsons.

And that’s a recipe for success for the Rockets.

As time goes on, chemistry will get better, and the Rockets will also make some moves. The team will only get better, and even if the Rockets keep the same roster but get improvement from Harden and Lin, they can be a lower seed in the West and get farther into the postseason. Harden wasn’t as good as he is now when he had Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on his team, but it would still help the Rockets if they could take in a good defensive player. Houston is 29th in points allowed and they don’t have much at power forward.

Without making moves, the Rockets aren’t going to contend for a championship. However, the Rockets have made major strides and are very likely to gain valuable postseason experience this year. They are 11th in total rebounding, score lots and lots of points and have a star to build around in Harden. The team is only going to get better, and they have the potential to go places. It’s not going to happen now, but Rockets fans should be optimistic about the future.

Because Houston will follow Harden’s lead and find a successful future.