James Harden’s Offensive Expansion

James Harden is the analytical era’s most accepted high volume scorer. Nearly all his points accumulate behind the three-point arc, in the restricted area, or at the free-throw line—in the form of many, many free-throws every game.

These happen to be the most desirable scoring locations on a basketball court, and nobody uses them with more uncompromising concentration than Harden. Now 34 games into the season, Harden’s offensive repertoire is expanding to an unlikely area: the mid-range.

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The Houston Rockets finished November on a 5 game winning streak and a 13-5 record.  They had just defeated San Antonio on the road and the Asik-Howard fiasco was over.  Sure, the team needed time to gel after their first 9 games where they started 5-4, but things were looking up, correct?

Fast forward a month later, and the scent of panic has begun to linger over this team.  The Rockets went 8-8 in December, with a negative point differential.  There were some good wins against San Antonio and Golden State, but Houston blew three games against Sacramento and Utah and were also annihilated by a Westbrook-less Thunder and the Pacers.  The Rockets are currently 6th in the Western Conference by standings and 8th in point differential. These are not acceptable standards by a team that has hopes to win it all this year.

So, what are the problems?  And what can the Rockets look forward to handle them?

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Dwight career game score through 2013
The chart shows a 10-game moving average of Game Score, which is a statistic available from Basketball-Reference that aggregates all box-score statistics into a single performance metric.

It cannot be understated how significant it would for the Rockets’ future if Dwight Howard were to return to pre-back-surgery form. I wholeheartedly believe that, if it happened, the Rockets would leap from the fifth or sixth best team in the West to the title favorite.

Dwight’s recent spurt of production had our own Michael Pina and Rahat Huq wondering aloud last week whether Dwight is a top-5 player again. They came up with only three players they would rather have than Dwight over the next three years: LeBron, Durant, and Anthony Davis.

{Pause to digest.}

Is it really happening? Is Dwight really BACK? Or at least well on his way? [read more…]

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