We took a look at a list of goals for the entire Thunder team a couple weeks ago. But let’s get detailed. Let’s get specific. I’m going to dig in and hit on some individual goals for a few players that would define a successful season. So what meters for success should we set for James Harden?
Average at least 25 minutes a game. The top worry for every rookie is the haul of 82 games. It terrifies them. And so for a guy like Harden, not only do we want him to stay healthy, but we want him to be able to take the wear and tear of a season and still be able to play 25-30 good minutes each night. The Thunder’s track record shows they want to let rookies play. Russell Westbrook was seeing legit minutes from opening night on. Kevin Durant and Jeff Green were linchpins for the team in 2007. So there’s a willingness to let rookies play as long as they’re productive. So if Harden is seeing 25 minutes a night that means he’s doing something good.
Knock down open 3s consistently. And by consistently I mean like at least 37 percent of the time. He showed in Summer League that he can hit 3s. He’s not going to shoot a ton of them, but he’ll go 1-2 or 2-5 on a pretty consistent basis methinks. With all the penetration Westbrook will do, a lot of kickouts should be available to Harden. The key is making the shot. That’s something OKC missed (get it? harf harf harf) last year and by missed, I mean like last in the league in 3-point shooting.
Average four assists a game. One of Harden’s slickest talents is his extremely solid passing ability. He control his body very well and finds teammates like a point guard. Coupled with Westbrook, that makes for some excited offensive openings. Four assists a game might be a bit high, but I think the opportunities will be there. He’s got guys that can make shots, it’s just a matter of him creating those opportunities.
Finish in the top three in Rookie of the Year voting. I truly think Harden has a good chance to win it. Blake Griffin is going to because well, he’s bloody awesome. But Harden should have a chance. If all goes well he should finish second, but a top three finish would be excellent because there’s a bunch of other good rookies out there. I mean Westbrook finished fourth last year and he had a fantastic rookie season. So a top three finish would not only bring a little more attention to OKC, but also help justify the pick to anyone who doubted Harden’s credentials.
Develop into a bonafide No. 2 option. If you haven’t heard by now, Kevin Durant is good. And by good, I mean like… gooooood. Teams are going to double and maybe even triple him. They’re going to push him around, bully him and try and frustrate the crap out of him. Teams are going to walk onto the court with this game plan: “Stop No. 35.” Now Russell Westbrook is a nice scorer, but he’s got to run the show. Jeff Green is more your utility man, not your second scorer. So when OKC took Harden with the third pick, not only was the Thunder trying to fill a gaping hole at 2-guard, but also trying to find a legit second option. There are going to be night’s KD is off or teams just lock him down. And the Thunder’s got to be able to turn somewhere. Just like how the Spurs can rely on Manu for 30 on a given night, OKC needs to be able to call on Harden the same way.
Have at least five 25 point games. This is really along the same lines as the above, but Harden appears to be a 12-15 point per game kind of dude. But he’s got to be able to open it up on some nights and carry the team offensively. He’s too good of a scorer not to. He will disappear some nights because 1) He’s a rookie and 2) Scorers do that sometimes, but he really needs to bust out and have some big nights.
Gel with his teammates. It’s no secret that KD, Uncle Jeff and Russ have quite a bond between the three of them. They are very close. While I’m sure Harden will be friends with everyone, it’s key for team chemistry to keep on the up and up and for Harden to fit in with the gang. This is such a young team that I could see some of the older vets having a hard time chemistrifying, but these young guys need to be pals. Hopefully by Christmas Harden is right in there with the other three.
Just be himself. Harden can’t try and come in and fix everything. He can’t walk in and make this team awesome all of a sudden. He’s part of the process and part of the plan. So he’s just got to be him. He’s got to create and hit open shots. He’s got to play solid defense and rebound. He’s got to pass and score. He’s got to just be James Harden and let everything else happen as it may. He can’t expect to turn everything around and try to score 20 a night. He’s a very, very good basketball player – when he’s playing like himself.
Ideal stats: 14.5 ppg, 4.0 apg, 3.5 rpg; 44 percent from the floor, 37 percent from 3. It’s going to be hard not to set the bar too high for Harden. We want him to do well and we want him to be that offensive force. But tempering expectation and understanding he’s a rookie is key. I think Harden is a potential 20 point per game kind of guy down the line, but not yet. He’s got to get his feet wet, learn a new system and adapt to a long season. He needs to score, but I don’t expect him to explode. Around 14 a game would be very nice (considering OKC got about six a game from shooting guards last year), but also a good number of assists and high efficiency numbers. A PER in the high teens is ideal because Harden at his best should be a very efficient player, but anything around 15 this season would mean he had a very good year.
Sound off Thunderfreaks. What are some goals to define a successful season for James Harden?