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Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Rockets Overcome 33 Empty James Harden Possessions to Beat Woeful Hawks, 122-115

Most headlines about Houston's 122-155 win versus Atlanta tonight will be some variation of "Harden Posts 40 Point Triple Double as Houston Wins Without Westbrook." Such a headline is factually accurate--Harden finished with 41 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists while his backcourt mate Russell Westbrook did not play--but it does not convey the full truth about the game.

Harden shot 9-34 from the field--including 4-20 from three point range--and he committed a game-high eight turnovers. Do the math: Harden accounted for 33 empty possessions (and I am giving him a deserved pass for his four missed free throws, because he shot 19-23 from the free throw line overall).

From an analytics standpoint, Harden had an "efficient" shooting performance: 41 points on 34 field goal attempts. However, this is not efficient from any rational evaluation of basketball as a team sport. Atlanta is a lousy team that is very poor defensively. Houston is not going to win many playoff games during which Harden's bricklaying and reckless ballhandling squander more than a fourth of the team's possessions; good teams will make him work harder to get open shots, and good teams will not waste so many of the extra possessions that Harden coughs up.

Plus/minus numbers can be noisy, and this is particularly true in small sample sizes, but it is interesting that in a game that Harden's squad won by seven against a poor team he posted a -3 plus/minus number, third-worst among the eight Rockets who played versus the Hawks.

Of course, the popular narrative--which is now receiving more fuel from Oklahoma City's temporary, relative success with former Rocket Chris Paul (let's see Paul make it through a full healthy season before he is again anointed as the "point god")--is that Westbrook allegedly does not contribute much to winning, while Harden supposedly rivals Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain among the league's greatest scorers of all-time. Therefore, the headlines and game stories must conform to the narrative.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:35 PM



At Thursday, January 09, 2020 1:07:00 AM, Anonymous Cyber said...


I can't with this guy. Not only does he commit an offensive foul almost every time he touches the ball but he's a blatant statpadder. But the media won't give him the same energy that they give to Westbrook who has at least shown multiple times in his career that he's willing to sacrifice his touches

He's also the laziest off ball player I've ever seen

There's a ton that doesn't show up on the box score that Harden is abysmal in, but the stuff that does he's pretty much mastered. Very frustrating to see because you watch him play on both ends and you just KNOW he's not pantheon caliber like the numbers would lead one to believe

A little off-topic, but what are your thoughts on Doncic? I know they aren't the same player and he's more crafty from what I've seen (better size as well) but I see some similarities between how they operate, he's already admitted that he takes from Harden which was disappointing to hear

At Thursday, January 09, 2020 12:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with you completely about Harden.

I don't see much similarity between Doncic and Harden, other than they both utilize step back three pointers--but many perimeter players are doing that now, and Harden is still by far the worst in terms of traveling when he does the move. It remains to be seen what kind of impact Doncic can have in the playoffs. Harden's resume in that regard is well-established--and poor.


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