Last year’s Sixth Man of the Year award winner scored a whopping 82 points on 28-of-44 field-goal attempts and nailed six of the 14 three-point shots he took in those contests. He also averaged seven assists, 6.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals.
However, Harden has considerably cooled since that pair of victories. The starting shooting guard has been slumping, and his team has sunk with him. The Rockets have fallen to 3-3 as their star player has failed to put up points, find his range, pull down boards and get teammates involved.
While it’s not entirely his fault—the Rockets' roster consists almost exclusively of young and inexperienced players—Harden is going to shoulder the blame for any failures this franchise has.
Let’s take a look at what he can do to get back the form he attained during his sizzling start and lead this squad to the postseason.
Take More Shots
While Harden has only hit 23 of 71 field-goal attempts (4-of-23 from deep) if you take away the first two games of the season, it’s clear that the $80 million man isn’t getting the touches he needs.
In fact, coach Kelvin Sampson—an assistant who is filling in for Kevin McHale during his leave for personal reasons—believes that there is something wrong with a system that doesn’t have the best player getting a chance to make an impact.
He told John Rohde of NewsOK.com:
“You don’t want James Harden in a democratic offense,” Sampson said. “He has to learn to play in the flow, but shooting is not an equal-opportunity proposition. If you’re on a team (and) your best player is not getting the most shots, there’s probably an issue.”
Expect the Rockets to find a way to get their newest star the rock.
Make a Statement
The Miami Heat are heading to Houston on Monday night, and it’s the perfect chance for Harden to both redeem himself and prove to his new teammates that they can beat anyone.
It’s going to be the second leg of a road back-to-back stretch for the Heat, who play in Memphis on Sunday evening. Expect the Heat to be weary and vulnerable, a perfect opportunity for the Rockets to strike.
Harden will obviously be instrumental in any potential victory, so he’s going to need to figure out how to beat a team that kept him in check during the 2012 NBA Finals.
If he can do so, expect a huge momentum boost in Houston.
Don’t Give Up
Harden played his entire career with a tough Thunder squad that featured two of the best players in the league—Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Now he’s the top dog and the only other player resembling a star on his squad is Jeremy Lin—on whom the jury is still out. A majority of the roster consists of players in their early 20’s and still learning the NBA game. They aren’t going to be serious contenders for at least a few seasons.
Harden needs to remember this and still give his all every night. He’s going to need to be a vocal leader, as well as one that inspires by example. Eventually, these rookies and young players will start doing the same and help push the Rockets into the playoffs.