James Harden Will Play as Houston Rockets' Full-Time Point Guard

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2016

Apr 27, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) as a timeout is called against the Golden State Warriors during the third quarter in game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

For the last couple of years, James Harden has essentially served as the Houston Rockets' point guard. Now he has the title to back it up.

Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said Harden would become the team's full-time point guard this season at Monday's media day session:

He's more or less responsible giving rhythm to the team, that's what a point guard does. He's going to be on the ball and he's going to be distributing the ball and it will take some adjusting. He's got a lot more responsibilities as a point guard. A playcaller, a good basketball mind, he's already telling guys we can do this we can do that.

Harden, 27, averaged a career-high 7.5 assists per game last season to go along with 29.0 points and 6.1 rebounds. He has increased his per-game assist total in each of the last six seasons and has seen a noticeable spike in playmaking duties since arriving in Houston.

Harden has set career highs in usage rate and assist rate in each of the last two seasons, per Basketball-Reference.com. The Rockets' offensive production spiked with Harden on the floor in 2015-16, though their assist rate stayed the same.

Harden refused to categorize himself as a point guard, but he seemed to relish the responsibility created by his new role.

"Just a lot of trust. My teammates trust in me to make the right decision whether it's scoring or whether it's making a play," Harden said. "We have a lot of guys who are more than capable to create and knock down shots and that's what is going to open our floor. A lot more guys are going to get open shots left and right."

The Rockets are making this move out of roster necessity more than anything. They signed Eric Gordon to a $53 million contract this offseason. Gordon should serve as the primary offensive shooting guard as Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and Clint Capela round out the starting lineup.

There will be talk of a more "uptempo" system under D'Antoni, but last season's Rockets already ranked seventh in pace, per NBA.com. D'Antoni said he wants Harden to play the system at his own pace, per ESPN.com's Calvin Watkins:

Sometimes he will be (slower) sometimes he'll be a faster version. Steve [Nash] is not like your traditional jet. Steve had his pace and Jeremy Lin had his pace and guys had their pace and all the point guards I ever coached had their way of doing it and those are very good players. He'll have his way. I don't know if we'll time him, 'Ok, he's fast or slow.' It will be fast enough to score.

The Rockets were one of basketball's biggest disappointments last season, finishing 41-41 before making sweeping roster changes. Many of those were done to put a D'Antoni system in place, so we'll see if his first big decision pays off.

Structurally, though, Harden has been doing this for a few years now. Not much should change.

    

Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.

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