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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Houston Sans Harden

James Harden has put up some very impressive statistics in the first portion of the 2017-18 season (league-leading 32.3 ppg, plus 9.1 apg and 5.0 rpg) and he has been touted as a legitimate MVP candidate. One would therefore logically expect that (1) any player other than a superstar who replaces him in the starting lineup would be much less effective and (2) the team would also be much less effective sans such an essential player. Harden is expected to miss at least two weeks of action after suffering a hamstring injury. The early results during his absence are mixed.

The following data is from a small sample size but it at least provides a glimpse at the impact that coaching/playing style can have on individual player statistics. Eric Gordon has taken Harden's place in the starting lineup. Gordon is a good player who won the 2017 Sixth Man Award but he has never been an All-Star, let alone an MVP candidate. In the four games that Harden has missed thus far, Gordon scored 21.5 ppg while shooting .437 from the field, exceeding his season averages in both of those categories. Gordon is averaging just 2.6 apg overall this season and he has never averaged more than 4.4 apg during a season but in the past four games he has averaged 7.3 apg even while playing alongside perennial All-Star Chris Paul, who is a high usage/high apg player. Gordon has not matched Harden's production but Gordon's numbers suggest that any reasonably good player thrust into that role in Houston's offense can score a lot of points while also accumulating a lot of assists.

The Rockets went 2-2 in those games, beating non-playoff teams Orlando and Chicago while losing to defending champion Golden State and a solid Detroit team. The Rockets averaged about 115 ppg with Harden in the lineup and they have averaged just under 112 ppg since he has been out of action. Again, this is obviously a small sample size, so it will be interesting to see how the Rockets and Gordon perform during the rest of the games that Harden misses. It should also be noted that the Rockets were slumping with Harden even before Harden got hurt; they lost five games in a row before needing two overtimes to beat the weak L.A. Lakers (that is the game during which Harden got hurt).

There is no question that Houston is worse without Harden; he is an All-Star caliber player, so the Rockets not only miss the talent that he brings to the table but they also have less depth when he is out of the lineup. The significant points are (1) Houston Coach Mike D'Antoni's offensive system tends to inflate the numbers posted by his guards and (2) Houston's high-powered offensive attack is not solely dependent on Harden.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:59 AM

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At Friday, January 12, 2018 6:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very fair analysis. Will be interesting to see (presuming good health) how the Rockets perform in the playoffs this year.

They've seemingly done a lot to address defensive shortcomings; Paul and Harden seem to be meshing reasonably well; and (one would think) each of those players should be able to enter the playoffs with much less wear-and-tear.

So I'll be eager to see how they do. (Although, when they meet Golden State is of course a huge factor--nobody's good enough to beat Golden State.)

 

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