Somewhat quietly, James Harden is in the midst of another jaw-dropping offensive campaign.
Averaging 31.6 points and 9.9 assists per game, he leads the NBA in both categories.
Last season, Harden finished just behind Russell Westbrook in MVP voting with absurd averages of 29.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 11.2 assists per game as he led the Rockets to the playoffs.
This year’s scoring average is slightly up, his assists are slightly lower and his 4.8 rebounds per game are much lower than last year, but that doesn’t mean he has been any less effective on the court.
In fact, he’s been much more efficient on the offensive end. Taking 21.1 field goal attempts per game, up from last year’s 18.9, Harden is shooting 45.0 percent and has shot 40.4 percent from beyond the arc, up from last year’s 34.7 three-point percentage. He has also taken 11.1 threes per game, up from 9.3 last season. While the small sample size can easily be skewed one way or the other, he has essentially been unstoppable with the ball in his hands.
"Last year, I thought he was unbelievable," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. "I don't know what he is this year. He's gone up another level.”
Per Feigen, Harden’s assists this season have led to an average of 24.2 points per game, which means he has accounted for 55.8 points per contest. That’s just one point per game off Nate Archibald’s NBA record. Also, if the season ended right now, Harden would become the first player since Archibald in 1972-1973 to lead the league in both points and assists in the same season.
"The guy is so good offensively, it makes him so much more difficult to guard, if that's possible. But his efficiency is off the charts. That's where he's really good: how efficient he has been. A big part of that is making shots," D'Antoni explained.
The five-time All-Star knows he’s being more efficient and explained why that’s the case.
"I'm moving better, a lot better, so I'm more efficient," Harden said. "I'm more able to get to my spots I want to quickly, not taking those unneeded steps on the court whether I'm trying to score or I'm trying to make a play for somebody else. Just trying to be a little bit faster and be more efficient… I’m moving faster and no wasted steps, straight-line drives, and getting to my spots a step or two faster. It's hard for a defense to guard that.”
Veteran teammate PJ Tucker, a defensive specialist, explained how impossible it is to guard Harden.
"He's going to score a lot of points, but now, how he picks and chooses times when he attacks, when he finds Clint (Capela), when he kicks it out for 3s, that progression he makes in his mind is even better," Tucker noted. "Full-time attack mode all the time is what makes the wheels go on our team.”
Tucker continued, ”The game is easy, man, for him. It comes so easy. He makes it look so easy. He's so smart, picking and choosing when he attacks, when he makes plays, when he passes, just everything. How he dissects other people's defenses is amazing. It's like he's getting better every game."
That’s bad news for the rest of the league and great news for Harden in his personal quest to win his first league MVP award. If Harden continues at this pace, Archibald's record will certainly be challenged by the end of the year.