Can James Harden lead the league in assists?

I’ve been writing about the prospect of James Harden winning the MVP this season for some time now, expressing my belief in his chances.  Amin Elhassan of, in this week’s Truehoop podcast, posed the question as to whether we would be seeing, in Harden this year, the first player since Nate Archibald to lead the league in both scoring and assists.  The latter possibility was one I had not yet seriously considered, despite recognizing the odds of an overall Harden explosion across the board.

But a quick glance at the statistical league leaders reveals Harden sitting atop the group in assists per game at 12.0.  The only other usual suspect is Chris Paul sitting at third at 7.0.  The cynic of course will point out that all of the league’s brightest stars are playing under severe minutes restrictions, but Harden himself is averaging “just” 31.7 minutes per game, a figure that will normalize closer to 40 when the games begin to count.

Digging into the weeds, in three games this preseason, at a 29.0 usage percentage, Harden is assisting on 47.4% of his teammates’ field goals.  He’s averaging 35.2 assists per 100 of his own possessions, with an assist to turnover ratio of 2.57.  Last year, for the regular season, Harden had a usage rate of 32.5%, assisted on 35.4% of his teammates’ field goals, and averaged 20.6 assists per 100 of his own possessions, with an assist to turnover ratio of 1.64.  Overall, he averaged 7.5 assists per game in 38.1 minutes.

This is the very definition of sample size theater, particularly when including a game against the Shanghai Sharks, but so far, with a lower usage, Harden is assisting more than he did previously.  That’s partly because he has better shooters surrounding him (Ryan Anderson last season averaged 2 threes per game at 37% and Eric Gordon averaged 2.5 threes at 38%) and partly because D’Antoni’s offense is putting him in better positions to produce.  While the ball is still in Harden’s hands, so far, its with his teammates in motion, rather than watching him dribble the air out of the ball.

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

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  • Mark L Gibbons

    Who cares? Stats are for losers. Not talking about analytics.
    The only statistics that matter are those that correlate with wins and losses. Individual scoring titles/assist titles etc. are meaningless

  • Jatman20

    According to The Rockets ORtg went from
    107.2 to 99.1 w/Harden sat on the bench in 15/16.
    ORtg went from 107.07 to 93.7 w/Harden sat on the
    bench in 14/15. Rockets with Harden on the court
    have out scored their opponents by 460 Pts over
    the last 2 seasons while being out scored by 162 Pts
    over the last 2 seasons when Harden was off the court.
    Harden has played 200 minutes more than the next
    closest player in the NBA over the last 2 seasons.
    I’m hoping Harden averages about 34 minutes a game
    this season. 10 assists/game will be a given….12 assists
    a game will be in reach (barring injuries). Too many
    good catch and shoot guys. Wins will be there as well.

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