Setting the Bar: James Harden

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?bharden550-080909

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. James Harden Thunder

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?

GAP
2009-09-11 11:38:31
If harden gets the minutes then i'm going with 16pg to 17pg because you still gotta factor in that he can get to the rim and draw fouls (even though rookies don't hardly) but he has that lefty dribble and NBA ready body that can actually add to is ppg total.
Royce
2009-09-11 11:40:25
<a href="#comment-22338" rel="nofollow">@GAP</a> That's a good call. Another goal would be for him to get to the line around five or six times a game.
Steve H
2009-09-11 14:10:55
Ideally, I would like to see an irregular rotation at the two spot depending on who the opposition is. If we are playing against Kobe, D-wade or B-Roy, giving Thabo the bulk of the minutes against those guys makes sense to me. Unless Harden starts to look like an all-star caliber guard, we get a better return on those minutes by putting the emphasis on smothering their best player defensively. If we are facing some mere mortal at that position, Harden should be able to hold his own defensively and provide more offensive punch than Thabo.
J.G.
2009-09-11 10:22:38
I think everything is spot on, Royce, except for the fact that Harden's first goal and most difficult task will be to beat out Thabo, which will be more difficult than I think a lot of people believe it will be. Thabo's value could not be overstated defensively once he joined the squad, and since everyone is raving about his corner three shot improving vastly in the off-season...Harden's going to have to fight hard for that starting shooting guard spot. And that's exactly what we want. Competition breeds excellence. If Harden can beat out Thabo, then that means he is one heck of a player and that means Thabo realistically moves to backup SF/SG, with Weaver getting the leftover minutes...and it also means Thabo becomes an absolute gem of a defensive sixth man. Man the season can't get here soon enough.
Royce
2009-09-11 10:26:48
<a href="#comment-22332" rel="nofollow">@J.G. </a> I'm actually reserved to the fact Thabo will start from day one. I think Harden could take it over, but I'm actually not too concerned about it. He'll get his minutes (hopefully). And this season, that's what matters. I see Harden playing 25-30 a game and Thabo 25-30 a game with a lot of time playing behind KD.
Joe
2009-09-11 15:51:56
Me thinks Harden will go for more like 48% from the field and 39% from the deep. I think he's one player that is going to benefit greatly from being on the floor with players that have a rep for being explosive (Westbrook) and deadly from anywhere (KD), and so he is going to get a lot of open looks like he probably hasn't had since high school, and a bunch of open lanes for his lefty drive, which he can finish. I think those two things mean great fg% for Harden. I think the total points are right at about 12-15, but he is going to be very efficient.
Royce
2009-09-11 20:39:59
Honestly, writing these little things has gotten me really excited about the season because it's nice to be thinking about basketball and stats and other things. We're closing in. Preseason basketball is under a month away.
Bang4ur$
2009-09-11 15:40:10
I think your stats are about right at the upside--if everything went right, and Harden challenges for ROY like we hope, that is a line that would definitlely put him right there in the race. Don't think we could expect more than that at 25mins/night. Those shooting percentages would be remarkable at any minutes. Might switch the asst/reb #s.
Royce
2009-09-11 11:27:26
<a href="#comment-22335" rel="nofollow">@Jax Raging Bile Duct</a> You're probably right but I just picture Harden being an extremely efficient scorer.
Jax Raging Bile Duct
2009-09-11 11:20:09
Nearly our whole roster has flexibility oozing out their ears, so I think there will be plenty of minutes to go around for Thabo and Harden. Thabo can guard the 1,2 and 3. He can play the 2 or 3 on offense, depending on personnel. I think 44 and 37 are a bit too aggressive for a rookie, but those wouldn't be bad sophomore numbers. If Harden hits that, I'll be ecstatic. My dream scenario is Harden coming off the bench to the be the team's #1 option while KD and those guys get a breather. If he shoots 44 and 37 his rookie year, it indicates that he can be that #1 option off the bench at some point.
Chris
2009-09-11 17:45:47
Can he handle the ball? Because if he is such a good passer I wonder if he could get any time at the 1. Playing next to Thabo? Am I crazy... not really a great basketball mind but it seems like it would work.
Keith
2009-09-11 21:54:17
On the Thabo point, everyone needs a lockdown defender, but that guy normally comes off the bench unless he's also an efficient scorer. Thabo is great for what he does, but we can't pretend today's NBA isn't skewed towards offense. I think the only way Thabo holds off Harden into December is if he has a high percentage three point shot or Harden really struggles out of the gates. Also, it should be mentioned that the Thunder, to this point, haven't just given their rookies time, they've basically handed over the keys to the team every year. Durant has been this team since he was drafted, with Green being his number 2. Westbrook, once PJ was fired, was probably given more leeway than he should have gotten. With our track record, Harden will see 30+ minutes per game and 13+ shots.
cpt
2010-09-21 14:45:44
hmmm i think he did most of that stuff