NBA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden ranked second in assists for the Thunder last season at 3.7 per game, nearly double the 2.1 assists he averaged in 2010-11. It was an impressive statistical jump for a shooting guard, and there were several reasons for it.
Most prominent was the season-ending knee injury suffered by backup point guard Eric Maynor at Houston on Jan. 7. Another was coach Scott Brooks freeing up Harden to become more of a playmaker. Most significant was Harden’s crafty ability to penetrate defenses and draw multiple defenders. In addition, starting point guard Russell Westbrook’s assist average dropped from 8.2 in 2010-11 to 5.5 assists last season because Harden was able to share some of the workload as a facilitator.
Will Harden have fewer assists or more assists this season? Could go either way.
Fewer assists: Maynor is back and being pushed by second-year player Reggie Jackson for the backup point guard spot. These two are point guards first, shooters second. Therefore, Harden can shoot first and pass second.
More assists: A bulkier Westbrook allegedly will spend time posting up defenders, which means someone will have to get him the ball. With Harden’s emergence as the NBA’s premier reserve, he could end up drawing more double-teams when he gets the ball, which leaves somebody open to receive his passes.
“We have three very good point guards on our team,” Harden said. “They’re playing very well. I just try to fit in where I can and make plays. They run the team. I just go off them.”
Though Harden often handles the ball out top like a typical point guard, he does not consider himself a point guard. “No, not at all,” Harden said with conviction. “I’m a shooting guard who can make plays and score the ball as well.”
- John Rohde