The 2012-2013 incarnation of the Houston Rockets has played only three games to date.
Given the early stage of the season and the roster turnover since last year, year-on-year team comparisons will be difficult to make. Instead, I’ve decided to take a deeper look at the Rockets’ marquee offseason acquisition to better understand Harden’s offensive prowess and see what effect playing on a new team has had on Harden’s statistics.
Last season, the Thunder were a whopping 15 points per 100 possessions better offensively with Harden on the court. While the Thunder also gave up 7 points per 100 possessions more when Harden played, the net result was still a benefit of +8 points per 100 possessions. Out of four OKC line-ups that logged more than 100 minutes last season, the two most effective ones both featured Harden; the second most-productive was a pure bench unit without either Westbrook or Durant.
After three days off, a hopefully rejuvenated Rockets team takes on the Nuggets at home. A three day break is an eternity in NBA terms, and McHale will have been using the rare opportunity for extended practice time to work out some wrinkles in both the offensive and defensive sets. The extra time for the newcomers from OKC to get accustomed to their new team mates should also have been useful. It will be interesting to see if that increased familiarity will help Houston cut down on their turnovers – after three games, they are averaging nearly 20 per game. It feels like this break has come at the perfect time for the team, letting everyone (fans included) sit back and take stock of what were a memorable first three games and providing time to get ready for the long haul ahead.
On the other side of the ball, Denver will be coming in having played at home against Detroit the night before. No three day break for them! To compound matters, it seems that coach George Karl has settled on a fairly tight rotation. On Sunday night against the Heat, he used only 8 players, though in light of the back-to-back (and perhaps the relative strength of the opposition) he may choose to go a bit deeper into his bench for these two games. In any case, Houston’s fresh legs should be a useful advantage as the game wears on.
Just like that, everything’s different. Daryl Morey had stayed prepared, but last weekend’s stunning trade for James Harden proved the importance of luck in the NBA. You can make smart moves, but without some bit of luck, you’re going nowhere.
The week before had seen, not just the discussion following the trade, but the emphatic justification of the contract: after signing an extension worth $80million, Harden went on to average 41 points per game in his first two outings with the Rockets. Tickers blared in alerting that Harden’s 82 points to start the season were a total matched only by Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain, basketball’s two most unrealistic figures. (When those two guys are the list, it’s basically like saying “you’re imagining the whole thing….it really didn’t even happen.”)
Last night, I observed that the game against Atlanta was one we should have lost. Tonight, this was a game we should have won. However, the Rockets came undone less to the mistakes of youth and instead more to sheer fatigue.
If there had been anything to worry about James Harden’s performance for the last few games, it was the amount of minutes that he logged. 44 and 40 minutes respectively is not even remotely sustainable, and for that to occur on the first game of a back to back just meant that it was probable that he would come back to earth on the second game.