Since being traded to the Houston Rockets and becoming a leading man in the NBA, James Harden has found varied levels of postseason success. Harden has made one conference finals, one conference semifinals and seen three first round exits in his five previous seasons in Houston.
Like so many before him, Harden has learned the hard way why it’s so difficult for a team led by a singular superstar to get over the hump in the postseason. Teams focus in on that star and make things significantly tougher on him, forcing role players to step up and banking on that not being sustainable.
Since joining the Rockets, Harden’s regular season averages have been spectacular at 27.9 points, 7.7 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game with a 44.3/36.4/85.9 shooting split. In the postseason, the counting totals hold steady at 27.3 points, 7.1 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game, but the efficiency takes a fairly substantial hit to the tune of a 41.3/32.3/88.1 shooting split. There are plenty of factors at play, including quality of opponent, but the lack of another star to take pressure off of him means he has been the sole focus of defenses, making it much more difficult for him to score as efficiently as in the regular season.
This year, the Rockets hope they have fixed that problem by bringing in Chris Paul to balance that load. Paul is looking to shed the title of “best player in the NBA to have never reached a conference finals” this season, and his postseason totals and efficiency have actually improved in the playoffs, even if his teams have never gotten over the hump.