A look at ridiculous season by James Harden through various chartsDaniel BratulićBlockedUnblockFollowFollowingFeb 21A lot of people love Harden, even more, can’t stand his game.
But he is having one of the most impressive seasons in modern basketball.
He is posting amazing numbers on a high capacity of shots without dropping off too much inefficiency.
And he is doing all of that thanks to his (even more hated) top weapon.
One Man ArmyThere is no need for searching advanced statistics to realize just how big of a load James Harden is carrying on his back.
He has 31 games in a row with 30 or more points which is the longest streak in the history of NBA excluding the great Wilt Chamberlain.
But those were some different times, in three-point era, which started in 1979–80, the second placed player with most 30 point games in a row is Kobe Bryant, with 16 games in a row, and third is Tracy McGrady with 14.
They both achieved that feat in 2002–03 season.
That absurd fact made me research Harden’s statistics for this season, and the first thing I went on to look for is the ratio of assisted/unassisted field goals.
I took the data from 1999–00 season up to this year.
Tracking of a percentage of assisted field goals started in 1996–97 season, but I excluded those first couples of seasons because the number of three-pointers was bloated since the three-point line was shorter.
Assisted vs Unassisted field goals made since 1999–00On the chart above, you can see the amount of assisted and unassisted field goals made by top 10 scorers in each season since 1999–00 season.
I also marked the top 10 scorers in that period in total points.
The interesting thing here is that Westbrook, Iverson, and even LeBron have roughly the same amount of field goals made in total.
And while the circle size, which represents the Free Throws Made, is a bit bigger than Westbrook’s, the difference is in only 50 made free throws, which leaves him in front of Russel by about 150 points.
Assisted vs Unassisted 3pt field goals since 1999–00All those thoughts lead me to create this second chart.
Here can be seen that the advantage he has over other players is achieved thanks to the insane amount of unassisted three-point shots.
He has more than 100 unassisted three-pointers in front of any other player not named James Harden.
Dribbles and points per touchSeeing Harden’s insane number of unassisted field goals, I wanted to check out the correlation between the number of dribbles he makes per touch and points he scores.
Dribbles per touch and points per touchOnly two players have more dribbles per touch than Harden, they are Tony Parker and DJ Augustin.
Generally, a lot of players who have more than 4 dribbles per touch are Point Guards, which is logical because they usually take the ball over the court and call plays, and so on.
But Harden is having really high points per touch even with that.
That means that most of those touches aren’t just dribbling across court but rather dribbles which end in created shot and most of the time made a shot.
I don’t know if his high PPT (points per touch) with a high number of dribbles is more impressive than the fact that Paul George scores half a point per touch, meaning that he scores on every second touch.
He really seems like a perfect player along Westbrook and a really serious MVP candidate.
Shot ChartThe second section of this post is going to be dedicated to the analysis of the shot chart of James Harden, and his shot selection.
Something like in my previous post, about Luka Dončić.
For beginning here is a regular shot chart of all Harden’s shots in this season.
He is taking a really high number of three-pointers, and even more importantly, he is doing it at a high percentage.
In the true spirit of Moreyball, there aren’t many mid-range jump shots, so percentage really doesn’t matter as there aren’t enough shots.
Step Back Jump ShotBut now we come to one of the most interesting parts of this post, and really Harden’s most dangerous weapon.
And of course, the most controversial shot from his arsenal, The Step Back.
If you watch the video you will notice that there are certain attempts which might look like traveling.
And that’s where all the fuss is about.
But I’m not going into that in this post.
I’ll just take a look at how absurdly good James Harden is at Step Back Jump Shots.
If you checked my post about Luka Dončić (which I linked a couple of paragraphs above), you might notice I made a raw shot chart plot for his step back jump shots.
Too ClutteredI tried to do the same here, but the result was just so uninformative that it made no sense.
That is because the number step back jump shots James Harden takes is almost third of all of his field goal attempts (417 step backs out of total 1316 field goal attempts).
The number of such shots is simply too big for this raw shot chart to make sense, so I plotted it like a normal shot chart.
Now, this graph is truly impressive.
The comparison with the league average percentage is done the same way as in the chart above.
Meaning that the percentage he achieves in each zone is calculated with ALL types of shots, not only step backs.
We can conclude from this chart that James Harden is shooting step back jump shots way above the average 3PT% for any type of shot.
To get a better grasp at how absurdly efficient is James Harden on step back jump shots, here is another chart.
There are only a couple of players with more three-pointers of ANY TYPE than James Harden has made Step Back Jump Shots.
To be exact, only eight of them.
And he is very efficient in taking those as well, netting over 40% of all attempts.
Kareem had his skyhook, Jordan, Kobe, and Dirk have their versions of fadeaway shots, Hakeem had the Dream Shake and Harden has The Step Back.
Efficiency and UsageWhen people think of Harden, they think of a couple of things:Step back jump shots.
Getting to the free throw line.
Being a chucker who takes many shots.
I already covered the first point.
For this post, I didn’t touch on the topic of free throws except for as a side-stat in a couple of charts.
But I will try to debunk the third thought which revolves around him.
First, let me explain the term Usage Rate which will be seen in next several charts.
As per basketball-reference, Usage percentage (or rate) is an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor.
More specifically, that means that usage rate is a measure of how many plays a player has ended with a shot, free throw or turnover in comparison to all team plays which occurred during player’s time on the floor.
Now let’s take a look at this year’s situation with efficiency and usage.
The chart represents the top 100 players in PPG.
James Harden is a story for himself in terms of usage, with Joel Embiid being 7% behind.
And the general trend here can be seen, as usage percentage rises, the true shooting percentage falls.
The biggest outlier definitely is Harden, but it’s worth mentioning Curry, Giannis, and Durant as outliers of their own.
This chart shows efficiency depending on usage for the top 100 scorers in the three-point era.
As mentioned in the previous section, I did not include the players from older years, as there isn’t data on Usage Rate and other advanced metrics.
And according to the data from basketball-reference, James Harden has second highest usage in modern history (well, history of tracking usage rate) only behind Russell Westbrook’s monster 2016–17 season.
But, he has roughly 7% higher True Shooting Percentage (PTS / (2 * (FGA + 0.
44 * FTA))) than him.
In fact that True percentage is also about 7% higher than the league average while having historically high usage rate.
I also marked top 10 scorers during that period along with Charles Barkley 1987–88 season and Stephen Curry’s incredibly efficient 2015–17 season at mind-boggling TS% of 67.
These two charts itself should be more than enough to stop the narrative that Harden is chucking the shots and being inefficient.
Scoring based on the type of situationThe last topic I am going to touch on is points based on action types.
That is also something that I touched on in the post about Dončić, but I made a more interesting visualization for this post.
I decided to plot these values as a parallel plot, which resulted in the following chart.
I tried to visualize how top 5 candidates for MVP award are getting their points.
With grey lines, I represented the top 50 scorers this season as well.
It is really just to outline the general distribution of points based on these six types of scoring.
And to show how far away Harden is in Drive Points and Pull up Points, and well, to show how little Catch and Shoot points he has.
It makes sense that he has so little points in that area since he has around 70 assisted field goals through the whole season, but a person would expect that number to be higher.
After that, I was curious to check out the situation for Houston Rockets’ players.
It was pretty much as expected.
Capela and Faried dominating in paint points and probably some elbow jump shots, and everyone rest focusing on catch and shoot situations (there are about 6 players hovering around 4 points per game).
Only Chris Paul and Eric Gordon seem to be the only other players which create their shots on some occasions.
If you look closely at the first chart now, you will realize that Capela leads the league in Paint points.
Having two great playmakers in Paul and Harden is obviously a huge boost in that.
Assist chartsAnd for the last chart of this post, I decided to look at some field goals which are made on Harden’s assists, to see how he is serving his teammates.
I was inspired to visualize that thanks to this awesome post I saw on Nylon Calculus.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the locations of pass origins, in other words, from where did Harden make the pass, so my charts don’t look so attractive.
To keep it short here is a chart, it’s very rough, as I didn’t know how to improve it visually, but it serves its duty.
It is really impressive to see that there are exactly 8 mid-range shots made from his assists (even less if you don’t count PJ Tucker’s shots left of basket).
It seems like Harden is either kicking the ball on his drives to the three-point range or just dropping it low for layup/dunk.
As I already said, in true Moreyball fashion.
ConclusionTo conclude this post, I’d like to say that I researching Harden’s stats was a really fun and easy thing to do.
Wherever you look, he is performing at some historically good numbers, well except on defense, but even there he is putting up at worst average numbers.
Some people still try to downplay this season and MVP candidacy because of defense and some other points which I mentioned (free throws, traveling on step back, etc.
), but the reality is that James Harden is an offensive monster, who is having one of the most prosperous and efficient seasons in the history of NBA basketball.
For me, he is the primary front runner in the MVP race, even though there are a couple of great candidates as well, such as Paul George, Giannis and of course, Steph Curry.
It is going to be a fun and exciting season all the way up to end, same with MVP race.
All of these charts were produced by stats from either stats.
com or basketball-reference.
All charts are created in Python, using matplotlib and seaborn.
The code is available in form of Jupyter Notebook on my Github repository.