Mike D’Antoni should be focused on how James Harden is getting assists

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Mike D'Antoni

James Harden and the Houston Rockets under the umbrella of Mike D’Antoni and staff is going to be something to watch this year. We haven’t seen D’Antoni in the head coaching seat since his roller-coaster tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers. But he’s made his way back with an obscured Houston Rockets team who seem to be “all the way up” one minute and right back down the next. What makes this relationship so intriguing is the fact that Harden can be very dominant in Mike’s fast-paced offense and where these two will really get along great is their candid negligence of defense (but we’ll save that story for another day).

D’Antoni in a recent interview stated how he’s glamoured on Harden’s play-making ability and expressed his desire in getting his assist numbers up next season:

“He’s an undervalued passer and I think we can exploit that. You know, he averaged 7 or 8 assists last year, I think we’d like to see him get 12 or 13.”

James Harden averaging 12 or 13 assists is no problem. He’s shown his ability as a passer and he’s more than capable of making that happen, but where D’Antoni’s focus should be is how James Harden is getting those assists.

James Harden Stats
Just a quick insight on where Harden ranked last year on his possessions. (All stats via NBA.com)

A lot of where the Houston Rockets went wrong last season is the staleness of their offense. They become too reliant on Harden simply because he holds the ball too long. He dribbles, dribbles, dribbles, and if he can’t get a shot off, he dishes the ball with about 4 seconds left for someone to shoot a three. Coach D’Antoni needs to coach Harden on how to trust his teammates and the offense to let other guys feel the ball. Letting your teammates get theirs and gain confidence goes a long way especially in the playoffs. That burden on Harden to do everything becomes too deep but when his teammates are involved early, his back becomes lighter and those assists come a lot easier. James Harden dribbling the clock out is not going to get them any further than they have so the focus for D’Antoni shouldn’t be the number of assists but how those assists are coming.

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