Revisiting James Harden at point guard

Over the weekend, Daryl Morey called Eric Gordon “the perfect complement to James Harden.”  Then, in an interview released today with Adrian Wojnarowski, Mike D’Antoni said about Harden:

I think he’s at the point where I think we can move him over.  Now I don’t know yet, and we’ll experiment, we’ll talk about it, does he bring the ball up every time, does that wear him out?  Does he do it a couple quarters?  We have to figure out exactly his rhythm of the game…He averaged 7 or 8 assists last year, I’d love to see 12 or 13.  I’d love to see where he starts the offense, and the ball gets back to him, but after the ball has moved around two or three times.

As you all know, I’ve been writing since last season about the prospect of making James Harden the full-time point guard of this team.  To respond to the inquiries of many of you on Twitter: the significance in a positional change for Harden is not about Harden himself, but rather about who he plays beside and about the offense as a whole.  The distinction as to whether Harden is the actual point guard or just serving as one is not of relevance – he’ll function roughly the same within the offense.  But if he’s bringing the ball up too, it frees the team to start an actual shooting guard beside him, like Eric Gordon, rather than someone who can just passably hit open 3’s, like Patrick Beverley.  It makes the offense that much more dangerous.

I assumed initially that Gordon was signed to come off the bench.  But Morey’s statement gave me pause.  Labeling someone a “perfect complement” probably means you’d like to maximize the shared playing time of the pair.  And D’Antoni’s comments are particularly revealing: it’s pretty clear the thought of, at the very least, experimenting with Harden at point, has crossed his mind.

The example I used in making my case this past season was Bradley Beal, but Eric Gordon is also applicable.  Rather than trying to acquire a pure point guard and move Harden off the ball, like they did with Ty Lawson, the better approach might be to just accept Harden for who he is, and keep him on the ball, but amplify his strengths, pairing him with an actual shooting guard.

From The Dream Shake:

…after 3-6 dribbles, Gordon shot over 50 percent from the field last year. On pull-up three-pointers, he shot 48 percent. Compare those numbers to Beverley’s 41.4 and 35.6 percent, respectively, and it’s clear that Gordon would reduce Harden’s role on offense if Harden slid to the point guard and Gordon played the 2, rather than increase his burden.

As you see, the shift would not be about changing Harden’s role, but rather making the offense even more dynamic by putting another scorer in the lineup.  Under the current model, the Rockets are reduced to playing an inferior basketball player in Beverley just simply because he can dribble the ball up the court.

Gordon, of course, is not a good defender, and he’d be counted upon to guard the other team’s point guard, in this scenario.  But as I’ve been writing, Beverley, while probably superior to Gordon, has not been a good defender either for some time now, despite his reputation.  Ultimately, I think what it will come down to is the aggregate result: if the offensive benefit to playing Eric Gordon and James Harden together exceeds what is lost defensively from the Beverley-Gordon drop-off, D’Antoni will make this change.  Evidence would suggest D’Antoni’s not particularly interested in the defensive side of the ball, and in this present scenario, I’d agree in theory.  Beverley doesn’t bring enough overall, at either end, to start him over a superior player just because he fits a supposed positional mold.  Now, if its a complete disaster defensively–and it very well might be–that’s a different story.

D’Antoni is the guy who shifted Amare Stoudemire to center and Shawn Marion to the power forward because he felt that combination gave his team the best chance to win, positional conventions be damned.  One could argue that Gordon and Harden together might be more drastic, but the point is, if there were ever the possibility for novel implementations, the right man is holding the clipboard.


One last point: Harden’s turnover numbers have often been cited as to why he may not make a good fit at point guard.  If listening to D’Antoni’s comments on Jeremy Lin from the Wojnarowski interview, one understands this will not be an obstacle.  D’Antoni essentially said that he didn’t care if Lin even got seven turnovers, because he knew the team would have fourteen anyways; he just wanted him to have the ball in his hands.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of

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  • setting_the_record_straight

    Honestly, what’s the net loss even if they DO experiment in this capacity? They’re surely not going to can D’Antoni 11 games in.

    The absolute, blistering downhill with Gordon trailing and Clint hovering is downright chop-watering when you think of Harden as the penetration man by design instead of default.

  • Lance Green

    Harden is Nash.

  • Jatman20

    I’ve been suggesting Harden playing the role as PG for some
    time now. I have often described the complimentary player
    to Harden at PG is a SG mentallity in a PG body….i. e. Avery
    Bradley. Reason being for defensive purposes; the point of
    attack is crucial and requires a better defender than Harden.
    Gordon is 6’4″; but 6’3″ Payton II may be the guy being
    groomed for the job because of defense. I would like for
    Payton to get to a respectful 35% from 3 point territory (NBA).
    Gordon can facilitate in PnR as a starter compliment to
    Harden or as a bench player (Harden resting). It appears
    the Rockets game plan is to best the GSW’s 3-point shooting.
    15/16: GSW 31.6 (3PA) 13.1 (3PM) 42% (3P%) = 1st in NBA.
    15/16: Hou 30.9 (3PA) 10.7 (3PM) 35% (3P%) = 19th in NBA.
    I’m guessing the Rockets goal: 14 (3PM) out of 31 (3PA)= 45%
    More (3PM) may be needed to counter the lack of defense.
    I can see Anderson/Ariza/Gordon being asked to jack up
    about 8 (3PA/gm). Ariza and Harden were jacking up
    that many early in the season when I complained about
    TJ shooting 40+% from three but less than 2 attempts per
    game. The most Ryno has shot was 7.5 (3PA/gm) in 13/14.
    Gordon was 6.5 (3PA) in 15/16.

  • Jatman20

    I like the progression in Harden’s game per year as a Rocket.
    5.8 Ast (12/13), 6.1 Ast (13/14), 7.0 Ast (14/15), 7.5 Ast (15/16).
    Harden finished 6th in Ast (reg season) in the NBA. Rubio was
    5th at 8.6 Ast/game. I expect Harden to average about 10 assists
    per/game pending injuries in 16/17. That would have challenged
    C. Paul at 10.0 Ast/game (4th) and J. Wall at 10.2 per/game (3rd).
    Top ten this year were all PG’s with exception to Harden,
    Draymond Green (7.4) and LeBron (6.8).

  • Jatman20

    Rockets signed Prigioni again. Now I feel good about
    the Rockets playoff run this season…..Not. I liked the
    idea of getting Ryan Anderson; but I envisioned young
    bucks or greyhounds surrounding him and Harden. Guys
    that can run the floor like antelope. Barbosa would
    have been a better signing than Gordon’s 4 year deal
    which is practically $12 mil a year. Barbosa is 2 years
    and about $4 mil a year. He is 33 but still looks like 28
    out there. I guess it’s all about the PnR.

  • wendytindys8555

    hat can run the floor like antelope. Barbosa would
    have been a better sig

  • Yu-Hsing Chen

    I’m sure they are going to try, but really position is defined nowaday more by who you GUARD (and who’s guarding you.) and not your offense position.

    Harden has always been the primary offensive initiator here anyway, just to different degrees.

    I’m sure they’ll run some Gordon / Harden lineups just to get a bit more creation on the floor when the other teams really zone in on Harden, but there’s more than one way to do this, the 13-14 season their bets offensive lineup was obviously Bev / Lin / Harden / Parsons / Dwight (or anyone else really.)

    I think it would end up pretty much the same, they just need replace Lin / Parsons with Gordon / Ariza. That’s the entire point of going small, it’s not as much of being smaller / faster as generally just putting more skill dudes on the floor (since it’s pretty obvious that on average smaller guys in the NBA have more overall skills.)

    The general issue with the Rockets in the last few years is basically that their 4 is a revolving door with no one that’s consistently good and healthy. and then they didn’t really have the personnel to go small either because you know… your other guard / wing options are either too young or too old (and the old guys are too small to even fake a 2 like Lin did.) and nothing in between.

    Playing say.. Harden / Gordon / Ariza / Anderson / Capela is fine, but your not really stopping anyone this way and forcing the other team to make really hard subs.

    My own observation on Harden is that he’s better guarding bigger guys than smaller once, especially if he can guard that guy on ball, so you might as well throw him against 3s on defense most of the time (granted it might lead to a lot of backdoor, but that’s gonna happen anyway.)

  • Shameek Ghosh

    Morey said the other day that Gordon is going to be a “super sub,” so Bev will still be the starter.

  • setting_the_record_straight

    I felt the same about Barbosa! That’s hilarious because my friends were putting me on blast for making nearly the same point. Although, Prig will clearly come off the bench as probably the 9 man.

  • Jatman20

    D’Antoni is big on pick-n-roll at different angles/players
    at different places on the court. Barbosa comes
    cheaper & he played for D’Antoni w/Phoenix.

    According to Ball handler in
    PnR (last season):
    Eric Gordon 0.95 ppp 89.3 percentile
    Barbosa 0.91 ppp. 83.4 percentile
    Lawson 0.77 ppp 49.0 percentile
    Prigioni 0.67 ppp 26.6 percentile
    One of the reasons I wanted:
    Augustin 0.93 ppp 86.2 percentile
    Courtney Lee 0.93 ppp 86.6 percentile
    **Harden was 0.97 ppp. 91.4 percentile.
    (Could be another Nash)
    Ryan Anderson 0.92 ppp 85.2 percentile

    Roll man in PnR last season:
    Ryan Anderson 1.07 ppp 63.5 percentile
    Nene 0.96 ppp 39.3 percentile
    ***Dwight Howard 1.10 ppp 71.2 percentile
    But Nene gives you a frequency of 16.9%
    vs Howard 9.3% frequency as roll man in PnR.
    Question with all of this is the greatest ability
    of all…….availABILITY!!

  • Jatman20

    Dekker looks like a facilitator in PnR per sum league.
    *Ball Handlers PnR: Harden/Gordon/Ryno/Dekker/Beasley
    **Screeners/roll men: Capela/Nene/Harrell/D-Mo/Ryno.
    ***Pick n Pop guys: Nene/D-Mo/Ryno/Dekker/Beasley
    ****3Pshooters: Ariza/Bev/Gordon/Ryno/D-Mo/Wiltjer/Dek
    No doubt the offense will be good (pending injuries).
    In a perfect world the Rockets don’t miss games due
    to injuries & hit about 18 three-pointers per game; which
    will mask the defense…..or lack there of. Teams that
    make about 18 three’s in a game have a high success rate.

    Wiltjer in the Novak role during D’Antoni/Novak/NY days.
    Bobby Brown (6’2″ PG/SG) is working w/Harden & may
    be a camp invite. Rockets report to want D-Mo at center
    for vast minutes…..if re-signed.

  • Jatman20

    I don’t know who your friends wanted. Sometimes
    quantity over quality is better. Rahat has some
    good stats on Gordon. Per NBA.comStats:
    Ball handler in PnR: Eric Gordon 0.95 ppp
    89.3 percentile. Barbosa 0.91 ppp
    83.4 percentile. 2 other players I was
    interested in for the Rockets: Augustin
    0.93 ppp 86.2 percentile & C Lee 0.93 ppp
    86.6 percentile. Harden (next Nash) was
    0.97 ppp 91.4 percentile.

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