Harden led the NBA with 374 turnovers, the most in a single season in league history. It surpassed Artis Gilmore’s 366 set in the 1977-78 season.
But Harden is so much more than turnovers when you discuss his game leading into the Rockets' Western Conference opening-round series against the Golden State Warriors, which begins Saturday.
Harden is a scorer, outside and in, a man who draws fouls, draws attention and is everything to the Rockets' offense.
“People see it over and over again, they don’t appreciate it,” interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “People see him get to the free throw line, people think 'Oh, he’s flopping' and those types of things. But James has figured it out, there’s an art to what he does. ... He scores almost 30 a night, seven assists, six rebounds, that’s hard to come by. The weight he has to carry for this team, not many guys can do what he does at that level.”
For as underachieving as the Rockets were in the regular season, Harden’s level of play hasn’t dwindled. He averaged 29 points over 82 games, second to Stephen Curry of the Warriors. He was one of just six players to participate in every game this season and he also topped the league in minutes played, leading owner Leslie Alexander to remark, “James won a lot of games. It takes its toll on somebody.”
Harden isn’t one to complain about the workload, but sometimes you wonder if it leads to more of his turnovers. In Game 5 of the Western Conference finals last season, Harden committed an NBA playoff record 12 turnovers in the series-clinching loss to the Warriors.
Bickerstaff said the coaches have shown Harden how to be careful in how he distributes the ball and when to see openings in the defense.
“I’ll be aggressive,” Harden said. “With me turning the basketball over, [it's] me wanting to pass the basketball first instead of being aggressive and letting the play come to me. Switch up my mindset a little bit.”
The Rockets are underdogs in this series and say they're embracing that role, something that wasn’t the case last year when this group was the No. 2 seed in the West.
If the Rockets are to move ahead, or basically pull the upset of upsets, they need Harden, limiting turnovers, drawing fouls, playing heavy minutes and all.
“You got to face them anyways whether it’s first round or Western Conference finals,” Harden said of the Warriors. “We got a great opportunity and a lot of people counted us out and we got to take it one game at a time.”