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John Schuhmann

James Harden has lived up to the hype as the preseason favorite for the Kia NBA Sixth Man award.
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Efficiency pushes Harden to top of Sixth Man of Year debate

Posted Apr 25 2012 11:11AM

The 2011-12 Sixth Man of the Year award had James Harden's name on it since the lockout ended in December.

Sure, there were other candidates; Harden finished seventh in Sixth Man voting last year. But none of the usual veteran suspects (Jamal Crawford, Manu Ginobili, Lamar Odom, Jason Terry) had near the potential for improvement than Harden, who showed growth in last year's playoffs and just turned 22 last summer.

And improve is exactly what Harden has done, increasing his scoring output from 12.2 to 16.8 points per game. No regular bench player has had a bigger role than Harden, who has averaged more than 31 minutes and has given his team a lift every time he has stepped on the floor. And it's not like he's been putting up numbers on a bad team. He's the third or fourth most important player on one of the four elite teams in the league.

Harden's increased production comes in part because he's playing more minutes, but also because he has scored much more efficiently than he did in his first two seasons. In fact, Harden has been the most efficient backcourt player in the league this year, leading all guards in true shooting percentage.

Highest true shooting percentage among guards
James Harden 309 629 49.1% 114 292 39.0% 312 369 84.6% 1,044 66.0%
Brandon Rush 235 469 50.1% 99 219 45.2% 65 82 79.3% 634 62.8%
Steve Nash 291 548 53.1% 55 141 39.0% 127 142 89.4% 764 62.6%
Ray Allen 226 493 45.8% 106 234 45.3% 97 106 91.5% 655 60.7%
Mike Dunleavy 231 484 47.7% 81 201 40.3% 112 139 80.6% 655 60.1%
Minimum 1,000 minutes
TS% = PTS / (2*(FGA+(0.44*FTA)))

Harden's efficiency has in turn made the Thunder incredibly efficient when he's on the floor. They have a strong starting lineup, but they become a very different team with Harden in the game, worse defensively, but much better offensively.

Harden's offensive game is pretty complete, making him one of the most dangerous pick and roll players in the league. Go under the screen and he'll pull up for three. Fail to contain him, and he'll attack the basket.

Thunder efficiency
Harden on/off floor MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
On floor 1,946 94.9 112.2 102.5 +9.8 +367
Off floor 1,204 97.0 98.9 95.7 +3.2 +42
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

If there's one issue with Harden, it's that he's somewhat of a matador defensively. But his offense more than makes up for that. And though he's not a starter, Harden is a finisher, leading the league with 654 fourth-quarter minutes and ranking sixth with 319 fourth-quarter points.

Inexplicably though, the Thunder don't go to Harden much in the clutch. While Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have combined to attempt 207 shots in clutch time (last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with a score differential of five points or less), Harden has attempted just 11.

Other reserves worthy of Sixth Man consideration...

Taj Gibson, Chicago: Gibson is like Harden, but on the other end of the floor. The Bulls are a great defensive team from top to bottom, but they're at their best defensively, allowing just 89 points per 100 possessions, when Gibson is on the court. He can guard multiple positions and has improved offensively from last season. It will be interesting to see if he gets any votes. Last season, though they had the most effective bench in the league, the Bulls received zero first, second or third-place votes in Sixth Man voting.

Manu Ginobili, San Antonio: Ginobili, a perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate, might be the favorite if he hadn't missed 20 games this season. The Spurs have a 28-6 record with Ginobili in uniform and have scored a remarkable 118 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. He's Harden without the minutes. In fact, Ginobili has a higher true shooting percentage (66.8 percent) than Harden.

Lou Williams, Philadelphia: Williams is the Sixers' leading scorer, averaging 14.9 points per game, and he's the only guy on their team who can create his own shot. But he isn't even the best Sixth Man candidate on his team.

Thaddeus Young, Philadelphia: Young averages two fewer points than Williams, but scores more efficiently (54 percent from the field) and is a much better defender (just ask Andre Iguodala). Williams and Young have been so effective together (plus-191 in 1,361 minutes), that when the Sixers were struggling and Doug Collins was shuffling his lineups, he kept them as a unit coming off the bench.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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