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Friday's notebook: James Harden struggles in January

5 takeaways heading into the weekend

Happy Friday! The trade deadline is just six days away and All-Star 2020 won’t be long after that. Here are some things of note as we head into the Week 15 weekend …

1. Rough month for Harden

James Harden is probably happy to turn his 2020 calendar to February. With one January game left to play (vs. Dallas, 7:30 ET on ESPN), Harden has an effective field goal percentage of 41.7% this month. That’s the seventh-worst mark among 164 players with at least 100 January field goal attempts, and the second-worst mark for any month in Harden’s career in which he attempted at least 100 shots.

James Harden, lowest eFG%, single month
Season Month FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3PT% eFG%
2009-10 December 46 129 35.7% 11 39 28.2% 39.9%
2019-20 January 82 234 35.0% 31 123 25.2% 41.7%
2012-13 April 60 154 39.0% 21 64 32.8% 45.8%
2014-15 March 115 284 40.5% 31 98 31.6% 46.0%
2012-13 November 96 233 41.2% 26 78 33.3% 46.8%
eFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA

Minimum 100 FGA in the month

Through Jan. 30, 2020

With Russell Westbrook having his most efficient month of the season, the Rockets’ offense hasn’t taken a huge hit. They scored 110.7 points per 100 possessions in January, down from 114.0 through Dec. 31. But with league-average efficiency having climbed, that January mark ranks 16th in the league. And the Rockets haven’t been good enough defensively to win games when they aren’t scoring a a top-five level. A 6-7 record this month has taken them from fourth to sixth place in the West.

Harden’s struggles have been about more than his 3-point shooting (38.3% through Dec. 31, 25.2% in January). He has also shot much worse in the paint (45.8%) than he did through December (55.8%). His shot distribution for January has been a little heavier on paint shots (46% of his total field goal attempts) than it was prior (43%).

Harden could be a little banged up. He missed a game in late December with a sprained toe and missed games on Sunday and Monday with a thigh contusion. In his return on Wednesday, he shot 5-for-18, with more turnovers (six) than assists (four), in a loss in Portland.

Fatigue could also be a factor. Harden leads the league in minutes per game (37.1) and ranks second in usage rate (36.3%). Two of his three lowest scoring games of the season (17 and 13 points) were in the second game of back-to-backs this month. As has been the case in previous seasons, Harden’s effective field goal percentage is lowest (and lowest compared to league average) in the fourth quarter.

In each of the last two seasons, Harden’s worst shooting month has been March. He’s had his ups and downs, but they haven’t followed any particular pattern. The All-Star break doesn’t necessarily provide the solution, either. Over the last three seasons, he has a lower effective field goal percentage in February games after the break (49.1%) than he does in February games before the break (55.5%).

The Rockets have seven more games before Harden and Westbrook head to Chicago for All-Star 2020. Five of those seven (including their game against the Mavs on Friday, which is for fifth place in the West) are at home, where Harden has a lower effective field goal percentage (52.4%) than he does on the road (54.2%).

2. Sixers’ road woes continue

The Philadelphia 76ers lost to the 15th-place Atlanta Hawks on Thursday.

Check that. The Road Sixers lost to the Hawks on Thursday.

The Home Sixers are 22-2 (.917), having outscored their opponents by 10.0 points per 100 possessions. They have wins over eight of the league’s top nine teams, with the Clippers having yet to make their visit to Philly.

The Road Sixers are 9-16 (.360), having been outscored by 3.1 per 100. They have losses to the Suns, Magic (twice), Wizards, Nets and Hawks.

Those two differentials (winning percentage and point differential per 100 possessions) are both the biggest in the league.

Biggest difference, point differential per 100 possessions, home vs. road
Home Road
Team NetRtg Rk NetRtg Rk Diff.
Philadelphia +10.0 2 -3.1 19 13.1
Miami +9.1 5 -2.7 18 11.8
Atlanta -3.6 25 -13.1 30 9.5
Washington -0.8 22 -8.3 25 7.5
Houston +7.2 9 +0.4 11 6.8
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Through Jan. 30, 2020

Last season, the Sixers had the league’s sixth-biggest home-road differential in regard to winning percentage and its third-biggest home-road differential in regard to point differential per 100 possessions (10.2). So this isn’t something new (and maybe the deafening sound system at the Wells Fargo Center is a factor — bring ear plugs when you go). It’s just more dramatic.

The Sixers’ home-road differential on offense (5.8 points per 100 possessions) is the third biggest. Their home-road differential on defense (7.3 per 100) is the biggest.

In Philly, the Sixers have allowed 101.4 points per 100 possessions, the best mark for any team at home. Outside of Philly, they’ve allowed 108.7, the eighth-best road mark. That’s not terrible, but with the league’s 20th-ranked, they need to be elite defensively wherever they play.

The difference in their defensive numbers has largely been about their opponents’ 3-point shooting (33.4% vs. 37.0%). But their ability (or inability) to keep their opponents off the free-throw line has also been an issue. At home, their opponents have a free throw rate of 24.9 attempts per 100 shots from the field (15th among home teams). On the road, it’s 31.9 free throw attempts per 100 shots from the field, 30th among road teams.

The points-allowed-per-100-possessions differential is about the same with Joel Embiid on the floor (96.4 per 100 at home, 103.7 on the road) as it is with Embiid off the floor (102.6, 109.6). The Sixers allowed the Hawks’ 27th-ranked offense to score 90 points on 78 possessions with Embiid on the floor on Thursday.

On average, the Sixers have played tougher opponents and stronger offenses at home. And the rest of their four-game trip promises to be much tougher than their game in Atlanta. They visit the Celtics (sixth in offensive efficiency) on Saturday (8:30 ET, ABC), the Heat (eighth) on Monday (7:30 ET, NBA TV), and the Bucks (second) on Thursday (8 ET, TNT).

Two of those teams are potential first-round opponents. And if the Sixers can’t figure out their road issues, they will be starting the first round … on the road. Thus far, they’re 7-6 in games played between the top six teams in the East, 6-1 at home and 1-5 on the road. The road win was Dec. 12 in Boston.

3. Canada is Comeback Country

The Denver Nuggets beat the Utah Jazz on Thursday after trailing by as many as 11 points in the second quarter. The win tied the Nuggets with the Toronto Raptors for the most wins (12) after trailing by double-digits this season. Both the Nuggets (12-11) and Raptors (12-10) have winning records in games they’ve trailed by 10 points or more.

They’re not the only ones. The Los Angeles Lakers (10-8) and Milwaukee Bucks (6-5) have also won more than half of the games they’ve trailed by double-digits.

It was written in this space that comebacks from double-digit deficits are a little more common this season than they have been in the past. Through Thursday, teams have won 25% of the games they’ve trailed by 10 points or more, up from 23% last season.

The Bucks, Lakers, Raptors and Nuggets have four of the five best records in the league. But four teams with winning records after trailing by double-digits is still pretty wild. Over the previous 10 seasons, only six teams total had winning records after trailing by 10 points or more …

  • 2016-17 Warriors (15-11)
  • 2016-17 Spurs (17-14)
  • 2015-16 Warriors (12-8)
  • 2014-15 Warriors (13-12)
  • 2012-13 Heat (14-13)
  • 2011-12 Thunder (13-10)

What’s even crazier is that this is the fourth time in the last five seasons that the Raptors have led the league (or been tied for the league lead) in wins after trailing by double-digits.

Raptors’ record after trailing by double-digits
Season W L Wins rank
2019-20 12 10 *1
2018-19 9 21 *16
2017-18 15 17 *1
2016-17 21 25 1
2015-16 15 22 1

Through Jan. 30, 2020

4. Update: George Hill still can’t miss

Here are the most improved 3-point shooters among the 161 players with at least 100 3-point attempts in each of the last two seasons…

Biggest jump, 3-point percentage, 2018-19 to 2019-20
2018-19 2019-20
Player 3PM 3PA 3P% 3PM 3PA 3P% Diff.
George Hill 48 153 31.4% 67 131 51.1% 19.8%
Devonte’ Graham 34 121 28.1% 171 451 37.9% 9.8%
Serge Ibaka 49 169 29.0% 40 105 38.1% 9.1%
Aaron Holiday 43 127 33.9% 71 167 42.5% 8.7%
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 151 435 34.7% 68 158 43.0% 8.3%
Trey Lyles 51 200 25.5% 34 104 32.7% 7.2%
Justin Holiday 162 465 34.8% 88 211 41.7% 6.9%
JJ Redick 240 605 39.7% 133 286 46.5% 6.8%
Solomon Hill 32 101 31.7% 55 143 38.5% 6.8%
Dorian Finney-Smith 79 254 31.1% 72 191 37.7% 6.6%
Minimum 100 3PA both seasons (161 players)

Through Jan. 30, 2020

Jrue Holiday is further down the list (43rd) from his two brothers, but has also seen an improvement (from 32.5% to 35.7%). And the Holidays aren’t the only set of brothers who had some productive shooting sessions in the gym last summer. Marcus (from 37.5% to 43.9%) and Markieff (from 33.5% to 39.7%) Morris rank 12th and 13th on the list, respectively.

The bottom of the list: Blake Griffin (from 36.2% to 24.3%), Jimmy Butler (from 34.7% to 24.5%) and Vince Carter (38.9% to 28.9%).

5. February schedule notes

There will be no full February schedule breakdown on Saturday, like we had for December and January. Instead, we’ll have a full, post-break schedule breakdown in the days after All-Star.

But here are a few notes regarding the month of February…

  • The toughest February schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage belongs to the Spurs (.564), who will play seven of their 11 February games against teams that currently have winning records. That includes two games (one before the break, one after) against the Thunder. The next toughest schedules belong to the Kings (.562), Wolves (.559), Jazz (.544) and Grizzlies (.543).
  • Set to begin the annual rodeo trip on Monday, the Spurs also have the league’s most road-heavy February schedule, with eight of their 11 games away from the AT&T Center. They’re followed by the Nets (8/12) and four teams that will play seven of 11 on the road.
  • The Heat have the easiest February schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage (.430). They’re followed by the Mavs (.439), Knicks (.445), Bulls (.449) and Wizards (.454).
  • The Raptors have the most home-heavy February schedule, with eight of their 10 games at Scotiabank Arena. They’re followed by the Jazz (8/11) and Wizards (8/11).

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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