Jun 6, 2012; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden (13) works with a team trainer prior to action against the San Antonio Spurs in game six of the Western Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-US PRESSWIRE

NBA Rumors: James Harden to handle the ball less next season?

Beth Hall-US PRESSWIRE

The Oklahoma City Thunder turned the ball over more than any team in the league last season averaging 16.3 turnovers per game. They also were last in the league in assists per game averaging 18.5 a night.

Despite this, the Thunder were second in the league in offensive efficiency behind only the San Antonio Spurs. The point being that despite how amazing the Thunder offense was last season, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

The assist-to-turnover problem isn’t surprising when you take a closer look at the Thunder roster. They basically played without a true point guard for all of last season. Russell Westbrook plays far from the traditional point role. Eric Maynor played just nine games and then Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher took over the backup point duties.

This forced James Harden to have the ball in his hands quite a bit last season, especially with the second unit. Harden saw his assist percentage rise from 12.8 in 2010-11 to 19.3 last season. Harden also saw an increase in his turnover percentage (which is expected with the ball in his hands so much more) from 11.3 in 2010-11 to 14.8.

Harden was the closest thing to a point guard last season for the Thunder but he wouldn’t call himself that.

“We have three very good point guards on our team,” Harden told The Oklahoman. “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 … I’m a shooting guard who can make plays and score the ball as well.”

The idea is that Harden took on more ball handling responsibility last season because he had to. With no true backup point playing alongside him, it made sense for him to take over. That evolved into a breakout season for Harden in which he won the Sixth Man of the Year Award and at times was closing out games in the playoffs as the point guard for OKC.

“You know what, it’s just kind of progressed to him (Harden) handling the ball more,” head coach Scott Brooks said. “I look at James and our guards as guards. We’re kind of a throwback backcourt. Both guards can make plays. Both guards can handle the ball in that second unit — Eric, Reggie and James. It definitely is a luxury having that. If you get trapped, you can always have the off-guard bring up the ball. We should never have problems in the backcourt bringing up the ball if they trap us. James is a terrific decision-maker. He can get to where he wants to with pressure and make decisions with pressure.”

Since Harden is just fitting in with what is going on, we may see the ball in his hands less this season while Maynor returns to the floor. Maynor is said to be fully recovered and before his injury was thought of as one of the best backup point guards in the entire league.

Maynor and Harden will share the ball handling duties on the second unit and that means it won’t be Harden all the time like last season. This will add a new dimension to the Thunder offense. Despite how efficient they were last season, they were predictable at times too often running the same play over and over to close out games.

Just imagine the potential of this team when you throw in another potent offensive option like Maynor. This will leave Harden to be able to do more work off the ball. He was great as a spot-up shooter last season and will also be able to attack on pick-and-rolls from the wing when the ball does not start in his hands on the possession which will give him another advantage.

The Thunder may not have made any major moves this offseason but their personnel will improve next year simply by having a healthy Maynor and the progression of their young stars.

The first preseason game for OKC will be Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 8 p.m. EST vs. the Houston Rockets on the road.

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Tags: James Harden Oklahoma City Thunder

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