For as good as James Harden is, he is very predictable. You know what’s coming from him.
He can hurt you off the dribble in the pick-and-roll either driving to the rim or finding the open teammate. He can pull-up for a three-pointer and has developed a nice midrange game as well. When Harden is attacking the rim, it’s always the Eurostep that he will be employing to finish.
It is one of Harden’s greatest strengths that his repertoire is systematical. He picks a defense apart one step at a time. It has led to him being one of the most consistent players in the league and one that can at times explode for gigantic games.
This is what made Harden so perfect as a sixth man for the Thunder and their third wheel. Once NBA teams were finished deciding how they would try and defend Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Harden became basically an afterthought or at least someone they couldn’t afford to focus as much on.
So Harden dominated in that role. He took defenses by surprise more than anything. He entered the game fresh when the other team’s starters were already tired. Opposing benches were no match for Harden. It was the perfect role for him.
Harden has blossomed as “the man” in Houston. But we have seen evidence of team’s getting used to what he brings to the floor. After an amazing February in which Harden averaged 28.7 points, 6.8 assists and 6.3 rebounds per game and shot 52.9 percent from the field, he shot just 38.9 percent in March and 39.0 percent in April. It was a combination of fatigue from being the best player in Houston all year and teams getting savvy to what Harden does.
The downfall of playing this way is that over time, when a team sees enough film of you and becomes familiar enough with you, they can start to take you away. Even if a team is just very disciplined defensively and does their homework, it makes it easier for them to stop you (that’s why Harden struggled so much against Miami and Chicago last season).
There is no team more familiar with Harden and his antics than the Oklahoma City Thunder. We saw the perfect example of this the first time Harden played against his former team and he went 3-for-16 from the field and had his shot blocked seven times.
The Thunder were totally focused on shutting down Harden that game and they had no problem doing so. It was the kind of focus and attention that Harden will receive in the playoffs. It’s what the Heat had ready for him last year in the NBA Finals. It’s what the Thunder will be more than capable of doing this year in the first round.
Thabo Sefolosha will surely start out on Harden then Westbrook and Durant should get some time checking him. Ronnie Brewer may even get some burn as the Rockets go small and will be sticking Harden. The Thunder have plenty of options basically who can hang with Harden.
It will be very much a team effort as Serge Ibaka will be just a bit more eager than usual to try and block Harden’s shots at the rim and Nick Collison will be a half step quicker sliding over to take a charge.
The Rockets obviously cannot come close to beating the Thunder unless Harden has a monster series. And they probably won’t win a game unless Harden has a monster game (he probably will have one).
Harden is still young and the fact that he is predictable at this point in his career is not a huge issue. But it does mean that getting past the Thunder will be just about impossible for the Rockets.
This series will be a wakeup call for Harden. He may already be an All-Star but it will take more work to reach superstardom.