The beginning of the Mike D’Antoni era with the Houston Rockets was also the first game for James Harden as an official point guard. In terms of statistics, unsurprisingly, it was terrific for him on an individual level. As a team? The Rockets lost, and showed some issues that could stick with them for more than just the opening game.
As far as numbers go, Harden has always put up bloated statistics. Playing under Mike D’Antoni is only going to help, as he finished with 34 points and 17 assists while grabbing 8 rebounds. He went to the line, a lot, making 15-of-16 shots. Maybe the whole story and narrative would have been different had he and the Rockets nailed their 3-pointers. Harden shot just 1-for-7 from beyond the arc. The whole team shot 24.1%, but without Harden it looked a bit better.
But Harden also turned the ball over 7 times. It costs the team points. Things looked more difficult for him in the fourth quarter. The Rockets scored less in each period: 38 in the first, 33 in the second, 25 in the third, 18 in the fourth. Building piles of theories on just one game isn’t a smart thing to do, but you can see how the Rockets can be great and what are their flaws very quickly. You only needed to take a quick look at their roster and coach to know what’s going to happen.
For this game, Harden not playing was very damaging to a team based completely off of his ability to hold on to the ball, create chances for him and for others. Harden finished with a +10, but more importantly a +7.6 in net rating. The Rockets offensive rating was 119.2 per 100 possessions when he was playing. His assist percentage of 67.7% is mind blowing, but also incredibly unhealthy for a team, relying so much on just one player, who has his flaws.
The title here doesn’t tell the whole story, because James Harden did play in the fourth as the Rockets offense went numb. But that’s more of a being predictable kind of thing. Turning Harden into a de facto point guard wasn’t a bad idea because he had the ball in his hand the whole time anyway. However, it makes the Rockets easy to read, and as games in the NBA usually go, defense in the fourth quarter becomes more serious, the tempo slows down, and suddenly all the advantages the Rockets had earlier in the game disappear.
The Rockets are going to be good offensively this season, but defense will remain a problem. The premise is that they’re going to score enough points to win games, as simple as that. However, having very little to offer defensively and not having an option right now for the moments Harden takes a seat or needs to play without the ball is going to hurt the Rockets in games that aren’t close. If the Los Angeles Lakers weren’t blown away by that, much better teams won’t be staggered as well.