The Truth About James Harden’s Game

James  Harden is an enigma in NBA circles.  He is a player with outrageous talent, yet the way he plays the game is perplexing to say the least.  He is easily a top 10 talent in the NBA, but his game is ridden with issues and in this article I will highlight these issues.

James Harden was drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2009 NBA draft with the 3rd overall pick.  He meshed well with the team the Thunder were constructing and fit his role perfectly for a team that desperately needed him.  He not only modeled his game off of Manu Ginobili, but he was using the exact 6th man role that Manu has filled for years in the Spurs system.  Manu and James both shared in common the role of being a player with starting potential, but being relegated to coming off the bench for the better of the team.  In 3 seasons on the Thunder he averaged 27 minutes per game, while playing in 220 games. However, Harden only started in 7 games during his tenure.  I bring up this information to set the background for his stats and how his career numbers are truly misleading.  Due to him not starting his first three years compared to his other 5 years his career stats do not portray the turnover issues his game has.  His career numbers are not showing the true amount as he did not average as many minutes and opportunities with the ball as a 6th man.

Hardens career TO’s pg= 3.4

  • 1.6 TO’s pg during his 6th man days with the Thunder
  • 4.34 TO’s pg during his stint as a starter with the Rockets

James Harden may be the most turnover prone NBA player not only in the league today, but in NBA history. During his time on the Thunder, with his 27 MPG, Harden averaged 1.6 TO’s per game as the 6th man coming off the bench.  However, once he was traded to the Houston Rockets he was a starter from day one and his increase in minutes per game showed it.  In his first year starting he averaged a little under 7 more MPG than he did with the Thunder.  With that he saw positive increases in his points per game and also his assists per game as he averaged 6 more PPG and 2 more APG. However, his TO’s per game had a negative increase from 2.2 to 3.8.  Now I am not saying this is crazy in any shape or form as the mans minutes increased by 6 per game so he obviously will turn the ball over more. I am just pointing out the alarming increase of his turnovers.  1.6 for an extra 6 minutes of gameplay is quite a high increase and his next four years starting for Rockets would show us this was no fluke.

  • 2012-2013 Season= 295 TO’s, led the league
  • 2013-2014 Season= 265 TO’s
  • 2014-2015 Season= 321 TO’s, led the league
  • 2015-2016 season= 374 TO’s, led the league and broke the NBA TO record for a season
  • 2016-2017 season= 464 TO’s, led the league and broke his own NBA TO record


As you can see Harden each year as a starter has had more turnovers each season with the 2013-2014 season being an outlier.  He has lead the entire league 4 out of the 5 years as a starter in the league in TO’s which is highly alarming for someone considered to be a top 10 talent.  Harden is on pace to for sure finish top 5 all time in turnovers for a career, but is making a case for most all time.

The NBA is clearly heading towards a much faster pace of play than the decades prior and this is clearly changing how the league and its coaches view turnovers.  The culture of the league is shifting towards a much more turnover friendly league, but James Harden was ahead of the curve. Essentially every season as a starter his TO’s have risen. This does not bode well for a team trying to win a NBA championship, as he proved with his 13 TO’s in a single game against the Golden State Warriors in the 2015 Western Conference Finals.  Can the new addition of Chris Paul to the Rockets help fix these issues for Harden? Can another dominant ball handler help take enough of the pressure of him and lower his TO’s? Can one of the highest basketball IQ minds in the game in Chris Paul help change his careless style of play? We will find out in the 2017-2018 season.



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Noah Vasquez

Avid sports follower! Honestly live for the NBA and all that comes with it. Love talking about literally any sport other than hockey (know nothing about it)! Sports writing is my passion! Come talk and debate with me on Twitter @NoahVasquez35

One thought on “The Truth About James Harden’s Game”

  1. Interestingly though, the Rockets average less turnovers when he’s on the court than when he’s off. The amount of time he has the ball means that he’ll soak up the lion’s share of the team turnovers.

    Now is that a bad thing? It can go either way, but personally, I think it is because it shows a lack of an egalitarian offense. Chris Paul should help to mitigate that even if by just being less turnover prone.


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