The Thunder has admittedly been working on things this preseason. There has been some eyebrow-raising play on the defensive end (meaning it hasn’t been great) and in some regards, a few of the issues from last season haven’t been tightened up.
But it’s preseason and this stuff doesn’t matter a ton. For example, the Minnesota Timberwolves are 5-1.
However, one player in particular has impressed me. Not by anything huge he’s improved in his game or big development on one end. It’s just a minor thing he’s doing.
James Harden is shooting a ridiculous amount of free throws.
Not counting the CSKA Moscow game that wasn’t against an NBA team and which Harden didn’t play much, in five preseason games, Harden has attempted 49 free throws. And that’s in only around 30 minutes a game. That’s kind of incredible.
He’s gone 9-10, 8-8, 10-12, 5-5 and last night against Denver, went 12-14. He’s scored 85 total points this preseason with 44 coming at the line. That’s over half! (Again, not counting the CSKA game.)
Nobody preaches the standard “I just want to be aggressive” line more than Harden. But he’s living up to it right now. He’s attacking the rim and forcing his way to points. It’s what natural scorers do. Harden is averaging 17.0 ppg in five preseason games, but he’s only attempting seven shot attempts a game. That’s some serious efficiency. He’s 17-35 from the floor, hitting about 48 percent of his shots. He’s dropping his 3-pointer at a high rate and of course, again he’s getting to the line.
Is this the Harden we’ll see this season? I don’t see why not. And boy, I sure hope so. The wonderful thing about James Harden is that he doesn’t have to force the issue to score. That’s why he’s such a nice fit alongside Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. He can play within the flow, waiting for his time to assert himself. And he has the potential to take over.
He’s getting to the line and best of all, he’s converting. Right now, he’s hitting 92 percent from the stripe. That’s big time.
Last season Harden attempted 3.2 free throws a game and hit almost 81 percent of them. Now I don’t anticipate Harden averaging 10 freebies a game like he is this preseason, but if he’s putting up five or six a night, he’ll be well on his way to averaging 14-15 points per game. Which will be a major boost to the Thunder offense. And might just be enough to force his way into the starting five.