Stat of the Day: Harden the Point Guard and Free Throw Rate

Stat: Oklahoma City’s James Harden leads all guards in free throw rate, averaging .59 attempts at the line per shot taken from the field.

Feb 27, 2011; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden (13) handles the ball against Los Angeles Lakers guard Derek Fisher (2) during the first half at the Oklahoma City Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Take: That Harden draws shooting fouls at a more prolific rate than guys like Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, and teammate Russell Westbrook will no doubt surprise some, though those that have really followed the third-year guard’s career growth surely knew this was a possibility.  Since he became comfortable in his role as OKC’s ace sixth man scorer and playmaker mid-way through last season, Harden has shown off a knack to get in the paint and wreak havoc off pick and rolls few in the world approach.  He uses supreme understanding of pace and angles to complement his awesome handle and underrated first step to blow by primary and help defenders before aggressively attacking in the paint.  It’s truly a trip to watch, the type of nuanced, smart, sneakily athletic dribble-to-drive game not seen since Manu Ginobili and Brandon Roy were in their primes.

So why does this matter? Isn’t this just stating the obvious? Well, yes, but a recent roster development in OKC makes driving this fact home and watching it closely all the more important – the Thunder’s acquisition of Derrick Fisher.

Fisher’s best days as a player are far behind him, as both the naked and analytical eyes plainly suggest.  He’s shooting poorly from the field and behind the arc, has no semblance of an off-the-dribble game, and strength and experience are now his best assets as a defender.  But despite all that, a GM like Sam Presti and an organization like OKC wouldn’t have acquired a presence like Fisher if they didn’t plan to play him.  Which is where Harden comes in.

Since Eric Maynor’s season-ending injury and with Westbrook out of the game, the lion’s share of ballhandling duties were given to rookie PG Reggie Jackson, and he performed admirably as the second unit’s lead man.  Fisher’s arrival, though, not only forces Jackson out of the rotation, but also Harden to play more minutes on the ball as a de-facto point guard to ease the offensive – talk about a pun – duties of Fisher.  Finally see where this is going?

Either Harden will play the role of a pass-first, pick-your-spots point guard like Maynor the ten or so minutes he and Fisher make up OKC’s backcourt, or he’ll be a ball-dominating, playmaking aggressor.  And if his guard-leading free throw rate is any indication, the latter scenario is a fantastic and exciting one for the Thunder.

This may seem inconsequential now – Westbrook already plays a ton of minutes, will play more come the postseason, and demands the ball – but the eight to twelve minutes a game Harden may play the point in the playoffs are the type that can change the complexion of a game.  And as we all know first-hand after Dallas’ 0-2 comeback against Miami last year in the NBA Finals, a single game can change the complexion of a series.



Topics: James Harden

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  • WalderSports

    It seems like a good idea, but turning Harden into a prototype “let’s see what he can do” point guard is a badddddd idea. Westbrook is on the court 40 minutes a game anyways. Let Fisher play 5-15 minutes as the point guard instead of having Harden become something he’s not. If not for the trade, Fisher would be starting for Los Angeles right now. He’s out of his element at 37 years old, but he’s not a complete idiot and is more than capable of holding down the fort for the little time he has on the court 

    • http://SavingtheSkyhook Jack Winter

      I suggest watching the Thunder when Westbrook’s out of the game and Fish/Harden make up the backcourt, Chris. I think you’ll see they’re much better served letting Harden do the majority of the ballhandling – he’s so comfortable there already – and Fisher serving as a ball-mover and spot-up shooter. The only reason Fisher was starting for LAL is because they had nothing better; he and Steve Blake have been barely above replacement level this season in terms of production.

  • akennedy41

    Great analysis on Harden here. My favorite thing – and OKC has been doing this more lately – is him handling the ball with Westbrook on the court and off the ball. I also remember OKC doing this for a few possessions against Dallas last year in the playoffs and I got really excited thinking they were taking the next step by figuring this out.
    Harden is obviously such a great playmaker and Westbrook is really pretty awesome off the ball. When Russ make a catch on the wing off of a kickout he immediately attacks and that’s just what you want to do and he is so good at it.
    I think OKC is at their best when they do this and I just hope they go to it in the postseason when they need to.
    I also like the Fisher signing too because it means Harden doesn’t have to be point the entire time he is on the floor. I love Harden as much as anyone but I’ve seen a few times when he has run point maybe a possession or two too much in a row and he started turning the ball over. This happened most recently against Houston when the Thunder blew that lead a few weeks ago.
    So if Fisher can come in and just bring the ball up the court and set some stuff up a few trips I’m happy with that. He obviouly has experience doing this as a point playing around ball dominating stars.