James Harden is under more pressure with the Houston Rockets this season than he ever was with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and adjusting to his new team and role won't be an easy challenge for the young star.
Any struggles that Harden has this season will be magnified because of his salary and the expectations that the team and fans will have of him.
Harden is used to being a sixth man who was asked to provide instant offense off the bench and also feature in a playmaking role at times.
In Houston, Harden will certainly start, which may seem like an easy transition, but for someone who has excelled in a sixth-man role (Harden won the 2012 Sixth Man of the Year award), it's not easy to move into the starting lineup and instantly have the same success.
Instead of being the second or third option that defenses try to stop each game, Harden is going to face the opposing team's best defender each night as the primary scoring option on the Rockets. This will make it a bit harder for him to be as efficient on offense as he was last year
Harden will have to carry the Houston offense each game and won't have anyone near the caliber of Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook to help him out if he struggles to score.
The only other player on the Rockets that defenses will fear is Jeremy Lin. Speaking of Lin, one way Harden's role will change in Houston is that he won't have to be much of a playmaker with the Rockets.
In Oklahoma City last year, he needed to get his teammates involved in the offense quite a bit, because after Eric Maynor suffered a season-ending injury, Harden became the Thunder's second-best point guard.
Since Lin is a pass-first point guard, Harden will be able to focus more on scoring with the Rockets, which should allow him to improve his points-per-game average for the third straight season.
Harden averaged 16.8 ppg last year, but he should be able to easily average 20-plus points per game playing starter's minutes, especially since he's playing alongside a true point guard.
Not only will Harden be asked to shine offensively each night, the lack of elite one-on-one defenders on the Rockets' roster will force the young guard to defend the opposition's best perimeter scorer on most nights.
His experience in defending players such as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant will help him in this role, but having to expend a lot of energy at the defensive end of the floor could negatively impact his success on offense.
As Harden transitions into more of a scoring role in Houston, while also playing more minutes and being under an increased amount of pressure to be consistently strong in his performance, it will be interesting to see how he handles the whole situation.
However, it's hard to imagine a player of his extraordinary talents failing to impress this season, even though it will take some time for Harden to adjust to his new role.
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