5 min read

Sunday Discussion – The Harden Hourglass

Sunday Discussion – The Harden Hourglass

Watches are so named as a reminder – if you don’t watch carefully what you do with your time, it will slip away from you – Drew Sirtors

(Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

Forty-eight minutes. Forty-eight nerve-amplifying, pupil-dilating and excitedly exhausting minutes is just not enough. At least not for the Thunder’s shooting guard duality. And so, with two very different but equally impactful players on their roster, that age-old issue of time creeps its ugly head again. Is there enough time for both James Harden and Thabo Sefolosha on the court to both make the kind of impact they can to help the Thunder win games?

Maybe. But what if there is a more pressing question underlying the question of minutes itself? What if the real question is: Do Thabo and James affect the outcome of a game in a positive way equally?

Now there’s a dilemma. That’s a question that I’m not sure any of us really want to answer. Well, this isn’t a place for the faint of heart fan so let’s see how they each rank up among the NBA’s elite SG’s to get a better picture. Before we do that, let us not forget those individual grains of sand in the hourglass that both players have in a game thus far.

Thabo Sefolosha averages 32.5 minutes a game; James Harden averages 21.2 minutes a game.

Now onto where each ranks among the league’s leading shooting guards…

Thabo is 10th in the league in steals among SG’s. Surprisingly enough, Harden is 13th in the league in steals among SG’s, only 3 spots behind Thabo. Of that Top 15, Harden is the only member to not average 30+ minutes a game.
Harden is 14th in the league in assists among SG’s, the only member of the Top 15 to not average 30+ minutes a game. Thabo is 24th in the league in assists among SG’s.

Harden is 19th in the league in points among SG’s, the only member of the Top 20 to not average 25+ minutes a game.  Thabo finds himself at 33rd in the league in points among SG’s.

Thabo is 2nd in the league in rebounds among SG’s. Harden is 18th in the league in rebounds among SG’s, one of only two players in the Top 20 to not average 25+ minutes a game (Demar DeRozan is the other).

Thabo is fourth in the league in blocks among SG’s. Harden is tied for 15th with Kobe Bryant in the league in blocks among SG’s, one of only two players in that Top 15 to not average 25+ minutes a game (DeRozan again).

Harden is in the 9th in the league in Free-Throw Shooting among SG’s…and since minutes played doesn’t really have anything to do with free-throw shooting percentage since it’s a percentage and not a cumulative total, I wasn’t going to qualify it, but just know that Harden and Philly’s Willie Green are the only two SG’s in the Top 10 who don’t average 30+ minutes a night. Thabo is not in the Top 30 in FT% among shooting guards.

So what does that all mean? Well simply put, James Harden is one of the most efficient, all-around shooting guards in the NBA — and he’s only playing 21.2 minutes a game. And that’s a problem. Especially since the argument could very easily be made that Harden impacts a game more positively for the Thunder than Thabo Sefolosha does.

Now Thabo is the Thunder’s unquestioned best on-the-ball defender and one of the best defenders in the entire LEAGUE. But as we all know, Thabo is an offensive liability who only does one thing better than most other shooting guards in the league on the offensive side of the ball: rebound.  For a guy who can slash wonderfully and has an absurd wingspan, I do not understand why Thabo does not drive to the bucket when he’s wide open more instead of jacking up ill-advised three pointers.

Harden is, hands down, one of the most impressive all-around shooting guards in the NBA. Not only is he 12th among SG’s in the NBA in PER (Player Efficiency Rating), but he accomplishes all of his Top 15 and Top 20 rankings in, again, a paltry 21.2 minutes a game. He is definitely not the defender Thabo is, but he has made huge strides in this area already in this still young season.

Does this mean that Thabo should give up his starting role to Harden? Maybe. But I understand that Thabo’s value on this team stems primarily from his ability to lock down/mess with the other team’s best scorer early and often, which would be impeded if he came off the bench.

Does all of this mean that Harden is a better player for the Thunder than Thabo? Again, maybe. Now some individuals would scream, “Of course it does, look at the numbers!” and they’d have a pretty good argument. Harden is at least within striking distance of Thabo in steals, blocks and rebounds (the only ones Thabo is ahead of Harden in) and Harden is way ahead of Thabo in the others. But that being said, stats are notoriously lacking when it comes to defensive analysis and so much of what Thabo does will never be scored or quantified by a box score, so let’s try to keep a level head about all of this as we move forward. But in terms of an overall player, Harden is definitely a more complete player than Thabo. But that’s not what the issue is, or the question was, for this column. It is if Harden helps the Thunder win games more than Thabo does, and I just don’t think we can definitely know the answer to that question yet.

However there is one thing that the number crunchers and the fans who watch the games can all agree on: Harden needs to be on the court more. 21.2 minutes a game is not enough. Now if Brooks wants to keep him as a Sixth man who brings a savvy playmaking and scoring punch off the bench, I’m all for it. But 21.2 minutes is still not enough, especially when Ginobli could average 30+ minutes a game coming off the pine behind legendary defender/questionable cheap-shot artist Bruce Bowen.

Maybe you slide Thabo to the 3 when you bring in Harden at the 2, thereby actually giving Kevin Durant some rest so he doesn’t average 42+ minutes a game this year, saving him from a fourth quarter or playoff run (come on, hope!)  filled with fatigued, if not concrete infused muscles in his legs.

At this point, I don’t care if Harden sees time at the 5 if that’s what it will take to bump up his average to at least somewhere around 30 minutes a game. Because if he’s in the Top 15 and Top 20 of most statistical categories in the league among SG’s RIGHT NOW, imagine what he could be at if he’s playing more than just 21.2 minutes a game.

But I suppose we’ll all know the answer to that question, in due time.