This is the first post from Jordan Kahn, the newest contributor at Hickory-High. Jordan will be stopping by sporadically to break down some NBA trends in video form. You can find more of his work at Basketball Things and follow him on Twitter @AyoitsJordan.
Despite being among the best guards in the Western Conference, James Harden was denied the opportunity to join the All Star Game. Harden is a favorite for the Sixth Man of the Year award and ranks 2nd in PER among shooting guards in the West. His case for an All Star bid has been made quite eloquently by others, so I want to take a look at how he has become such an elite player.
One way Harden improved his overall numbers was to focus on his strengths. He was excellent as a pick-and-roll ball handler last year, ranking 9th in the NBA in points per possession. This year, he’s been involved in more pick-and-roll possessions per game, and he’s become even better at it. Harden is at his best when attacking the hoop, and the pick-and-roll puts him in position to do just that. Harden has become an excellent finisher; he’s shooting 70% at the rim, which is better than the average center. Watching him turn the corner and slash through traffic makes those comparisons to Manu Ginobili seem very appropriate. The following clips show how aggressively he attacks the defense and finds way to the rim.
Harden also has good passing instincts in the pick and roll. He’s improved his assist rate each year in the league, and with a current mark of almost 24, he is well above the league average for shooting guards. If Oklahoma City had better threats in the middle to roll to the hoop, Harden would be even more deadly as the pick-and-roll ball handler. As it is, he rarely passes to the roll man, opting to hit spot up shooters instead. The first three clips show the screener not threatening the defense, while the last clip shows Harden making the easy pass to the perimeter.
While Harden has been great in the pick-and-roll and when attacking the basket, he has had struggles when shooting jumpers in these situations. He’s shooting 27% on all pick and roll jumpers, including a disappointing 1 for 13 from three. He could stand to take fewer jump shots in these situations, but since he’s a solid shooter in general, these percentages could be a bit fluky. The video below shows Harden settling for jumpers when there are driving opportunities available.
James Harden has quickly developed into an All Star level offensive player, regardless of voters’ opinions. Considering the lack of shooting guard talent in the league, it’s surprising that he couldn’t make the cut.