Beard is Melo, Melo is Beard - James Harden is 24 years old. He averages over 23 points per game and dishes out 5.3 assists. He is one of only 38 players in the league to average over 18 ppg, and only 15 of those 38 manage over 5 assists. Of the 21 players to average more than 20 ppg, the number of players with at least 5 apg shrinks to 10.
The Houston Rockets average over 105 points per game, good for 3rd most in the league. And while the Rockets play fast (7th overall in pace) and take a lot of shots, they still manage to remain remarkably efficient, coming in 6th overall in offensive efficiency. They do so by ranking 3rd in both effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage (53% & 56.8% respectively).
James Harden is a very effective, efficient player playing in a very effective, efficient offense.
So when Truehoop’s David Thorpe compares the Beard to the ball-stopping Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks – who, for the record, are the 29th team in pace, 15th in efficiency, 13th in eFG% and 17th in TS% – it may come off as a little bit of a slap in the face to Rockets fans. (It’s also a little funny because if the Rockets keep Asik through the end of this year and Melo decides to leave the Knicks, I could absolutely see a universe in which Anthony becomes a Rocket). Thorpe’s breakdown is somewhat of a two-parter: the article making his case and his discussion with Henry Abbott. From the article:
Possession after possession, Harden catches and holds the ball, maybe adding a shot fake and some jabs or pivots before he makes a move. According to NBA.com/stats, among all NBA players who are not point guards, only LeBron James has had the ball in his hands more than Harden this season. Correspondingly, Miami has the best offense in the league, and Houston is fifth, so it works for each team.
In defense of LeBron James, he does play out of the post a significant amount more than Harden; scanning the defense from an advantageous position deep inside enemy territory as opposed to thirty-feet away from the basket, which is more Harden’s modus operandi.
Some may see Thorpe’s claim as an attack on Harden, whereas really it’s just pointing out some disturbing trends for a player that, prior to coming to Houston, was one of the best team-oriented playmakers in the Association. Now he sees a player that burns precious seconds off the clock jabbing and stabbing at his man before attempting a difficult shot at the rim or with a hand in his face, afraid to pass the ball for fear it won’t come back from one of his high-usage teammates. In the video, Abbott makes a convoluted analogy comparing Harden’s ability to make difficult shots to a policeman who is an excellent in high-speed chases. Is the policeman good at his job because he’s so good in such extreme situations, or could he be a better peace officer if he prevented the chases in the first place?
Even through all of this, Thorpe really makes a point of calling Harden an elite 0ffensive talent. However, he also points out that like Melo, Harden is becoming known as a scorer and nothing else. But it goes beyond just lazy defense; Thorpe also questions Harden’s leadership.
Anthony’s reputation is that of a killer scorer but not much else. Harden is that guy now as well, famously taking off multiple plays — even quarters or games — on defense, and completely lacking in his willingness to set an example of how to play hard. Leadership can come in many forms, and Harden, like Anthony, only fulfills the “best scorer on the team” role that some leaders fill. But neither guy is gifted at inspiring teammates, on the court or off of it, which leaders are also expected to do.
Instead, Harden is now known for his moodiness, likely the result of the challenges a new superstar faces nightly on the floor, as well as the weight stars feel when their teams lose. Those issues have plagued Howard for years, and together he and Harden have not figured out how to join forces and become a duo that can overcome them. Not yet, at least.
This part is much more disturbing than the actual offensive strategy of Harden’s new found approach. As I said, Harden is an efficient player in an efficient offense, and perhaps that offense could be even better with a few tweaks to Harden’s game, but that’s just a case of the rich getting richer. The leadership aspect seems much more relevant, primarily because it’s becoming more obvious. Neither Harden nor Howard seem to run as much of the franchise as players of their stature typically do – that role seems to be filled more and more by Chandler Parsons. He’s been in Houston the longest, he was a main cog in the Dwight recruiting-team and he generally just seems to be the voice of the locker room.
As I discussed in the Daily a few weeks ago, Parsons had an interesting quote regarding the difference in the way the Rockets play when Harden is in the lineup versus when he sits. I thought it was curious to state it so bluntly, and wondered if Parsons might be subtly reminding Harden how the team can play when it runs as a machine. Well, last night in a post-game interview with the NBA TV studio crew, Parsons reminded us (and Harden?) what that machine can do. The first question Matt Winer asked was what has been the theme to the Rockets’ six-game winning streak.
“Just moving the ball offensively. I think early on we were pressing, taking tough shots. Now we’re playing with a lot of fun, moving the ball, making the extra pass, getting out in transition; that all starts with defense.”
Doesn’t that sound like like the antithesis of how Thorpe describes Harden? Last night the Rockets’ starters all scored in double digits, although Harden did go 4-14 and had only the fifth highest +/- on the team. Again, maybe Parsons’ comments are coach-speak and he is just playing the good soldier, but he seems to be pretty Harden-centric when discussing how the offense should be run.
There haven’t been too many teams in the modern NBA to win a title without its best scorer also being the leader on the team. Magic Johnson certainly led, and he was the third option on the Showtime Lakers. The 2004 Pistons – the poster child for defying typical championship team hierarchy – probably didn’t take all their cues from Richard Hamilton, but they had at least four guys who all had specific leadership roles on that team. And I’m not saying the Rockets don’t, but Dwight Howard doesn’t exactly carry the same weight of Rasheed or Ben Wallace. No other team in my lifetime won a title with a secondary option on offense leading the locker room.
The Rockets have a lot left to sort out for a team with such high aspirations, maybe more than any other contender. But they certainly have the pieces. And if Parsons or Harden or Howard or anyone else in that locker room can get all the parts moving together, there is no goal the Rockets can’t achieve. And that’s something Carmelo Anthony definitely doesn’t have in common with the Beard.
Stein Line Week 15 - Marc Stein’s latest rendition of the weekly power rankings is out and the Rockets have achieved new heights, rising to number five.
Not too many problems in Houston at the minute. Dwight Howard is averaging 26.2 PPG and 10.8 RPG during the Rockets’ five-game win streak. They’re up to 12 straight wins when Dwight scores at least 20. And they’ve quietly welcomed Omer Asik back to the lineup after a 31-game exile.
The Rockets leapt the Portland Trail Blazers and the Memphis Grizzlies, who fell a whopping six spots after going 1-3 last week without Mike Conley. The Blazers seem to be coming back to Earth a bit after scoring so easily the first part of the season. They’re just tied for 21st in Hollinger’s offensive efficiency metric.
If the Rockets can ever get passed the Clippers, there’s a real chance they could finally crack the top three of the West standings and avoid a first round match-up against the Clips or Warriors, instead getting the Mavericks and Suns of the world. Portland is only 1.5 games up on Houston, and San Antonio has replaced the Rockets as the team that just can’t get healthy.
There really aren’t too many problems in Houston right now.
Being Relevant is Fun - The NBA and ESPN have swooped in and saved us from another dreadful nationally televised Lakers game, this time against Brooklyn.
Lakers-Nets on Feb. 23 will no longer be on ESPN. Instead the game will be Rockets-Suns.
— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) February 10, 2014
So it looks like we’ll get to tune in to “KJ Dunk Night“, and relive the glory of that time a Phoenix Sun dunked on a Hall of Fame center in a series the Suns would go on to lose to the eventual champs. Isn’t that nice.