clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Yay or Nay: James Harden an All-Star starter?

Kevin Durant is as likely an All-Star starter as any player in the NBA. Kyrie Irving’s late return and part-time status will likely keep him home. But what about James Harden? Holden Velasco breaks it down.

San Antonio Spurs v Brooklyn Nets Photo by David L. Nemec/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s a long-standing tradition every year that all of the NBA world looks forward to, whether it’s the festivities, a break for players, or how it brings the host city alive. NBA All-Star weekend is unlike anything else in basketball. A spectacle in itself is the All-Star game roster selections. Debate over the selections leading up to the weekend gets wild. Is it a popularity contest or a current evaluation of players’ play?

This year, James Harden is at the center of that debate. The race to represent the Eastern Conference as a starting guard is likely going to come down to Harden, Atlanta’s Trae Young, and dem boys from the Windy City, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan. While in the long run, starting versus not starting doesn’t make a difference, it’s still an honor worth conversation. It still goes on the resume’

Background

When the NBA released the first tally of fan voting, it became apparent that at the moment there seems to be a four-man race for who will start in the backcourt for the Eastern Conference in Cleveland.

DeRozan is currently running away from the field in fan votes. He’s nearly 600,000 votes ahead of Harden who’s in second with 892,065. (Also of note is that Kyrie is sixth in the Eastern guards while Kevin Durant has received the second most votes in the NBA with just under 2.4 million. LaMarcus Aldridge surprisingly came in at ninth for the Eastern Conference frontcourt, finishing with almost 20,000 more votes than Nikola Vučević. Former Net Jarrett Allen is also doing alright for himself, as he’s sixth with around 170,000 thousand votes.)

Fan vote only accounts for 50 percent of the total vote with the other 50 percent coming from current players and media members. The reserves are chosen by head coaches from around the league and (if necessary) commissioner Adam Silver picks injury (or illness) replacements.

Important dates to remember are January 22 when fan voting ends, and January 27 when the starters will be announced. Reserves will be announced on February 3rd. You can cast a ballot using this link.

By the numbers

This article will focus solely on Harden, Young, DeRozan, and LaVine. Other players have made some noise for themselves but it might not be enough to jump these four. All of the following side-by-side statistics are per game averages.

Points: 1. Young (28.0), 2. DeRozan (26.4), 3. LaVine (26.2), 4. Harden (22.4)

Assists: 1. Harden (9.7), 2. Young (9.5), 3. DeRozan (4.7), 4. LaVine (4.1)

Rebounds: 1. Harden (8.1), 2. DeRozan (5.0), 3. LaVine (4.9), 4. Young (4.0)

Steals: 1. Harden (1.3), T-2. DeRozan and Young (0.9), 4. LaVine (0.6)

Blocks: 1. Harden (0.7), 2. DeRozan (0.4), 3. LaVine (0.3), 4. Young (0.1)

Turnovers: 1. DeRozan (2.4), 2. LaVine (2.9), 3. Young (4.1), 4. Harden (4.8)

FG/G: 1. Young (9.6), T-2. DeRozan and LaVine (9.5), 4. Harden (6.5)

3P/G: 1. LaVine (3.1), 2. Young (2.7), 3. Harden (2.4), 4. DeRozan (0.7)

FT/G: 1. Harden (7.0), 2. DeRozan (6.6), 3. Young (6.1), 4. LaVine (4.1)

FG%: 1. LaVine (49.2%), 2. DeRozan (49.1%), 3. Young (45.5%), 4. Harden (41.7%)

3P%: 1. LaVine (41.1%), 2. Young (37.0%), 3. DeRozan (35.2%), 4. Harden (33.1%)

FT%: 1. Young (89.8%), 2. Harden (86.9%), 3. LaVine (86.7%), 4. DeRozan (85.2%)

TS%: 1. LaVine (61.2%),. 2. Harden (58.4%), 3. Young (58.1%), 4. DeRozan (57.9%)

USG: 1. Young (35.5%), 2. DeRozan (31.2%), 3. LaVine (30.4%), 4. Harden (28.2%)

BPM: 1. Young (4.5), 2. Harden (4.1), 3. LaVine (3.4), 4. DeRozan (2.2)

OBPM: 1. Young (6.8), 2. LaVine (4.7), 3. Harden (3.6), 4. DeRozan (3.1)

DBPM: 1. Harden (0.5), 2. DeRozan (-0.9), 3. LaVine (-1.3), 4. Young (-2.3)

Harden versus Young

I think it’s appropriate to start the comparison with the Hawks’ Young. Both he and Harden were the poster boys for the rule changes targeting “non-basketball” moves’ leading to foul calls. There was definitely an adjustment period for both, as they each saw their own fair share of no-calls and/or plain bad takes that usually would’ve led to a whistle.

Since then, however, both Harden and Young have gotten their groove back. Since December, Harden has averaged 25 points, 10 assists, and eight rebounds per game while Young has averaged 31 points, 10 assists, and four rebounds per game. What’s the main difference between the two? Efficiency, especially from beyond the arc. Harden has shot 27.1 percent from deep during that stretch on 6.5 attempts a night. Young has shot 33.9 percent from three on 8.2 attempts per game.

While neither numbers are stellar, Harden’s is atrocious. Harden isn’t the only Net to see his 3-point percentage drop. No Joe Harris in the lineup has affected the Nets tremendously. Prior to Joey Buckets’ injury, Harden was shooting 39.3 percent from deep. Since November 14, Harris last game, he’s shot 28.1 percent. Durant has dropped from 42.4 percent to 32.4 and Patty Mills from 48.1 percent to 38.8. Brooklyn as a whole was first in the NBA at 39.3 percent but has fallen to 28th at 31.6 percent since Harris injury.

While both Young and Harden are known for their shooting — and have had their respective struggles recently — it’s their playmaking that really separates them from other guards in the mix. Harden is second in the NBA in assists at 9.7 while Young is right behind him in third at 9.6. Of note, Young is the only player in the NBA to rank top five in both points and assists per game, as he’s fourth with his 28 points per game average. His 48.3 assist percentage leads the NBA, with his 14.6 turnover percentage being a career low.

However, All-Star voting is typically based upon more than just raw statistics (just ask Bradley Beal). Team success does play a role in fan voting, and this is a factor that works against Young but in favor of Harden and the Chicago guards. While Brooklyn and the Bulls sit atop the Conference in first and second respectively, Atlanta has been very disappointing, currently in 12th place and 3-7 in their last ten. In the end, however, that may not matter, as Young has been ripping apart defenses, albeit without it showing up in the win column.

Harden versus Windy City guards

The same cannot be said about DeRozan and LaVine, as the Chicago Bulls are two games ahead of the Nets for first place in the East and hold the third best record in the NBA.

DeRozan in particular has been spectacular this season, as he’s legitimately put himself in MVP conversations. He checks all of the boxes: he’s the best player on one of the best teams in the NBA with great statistics. He’s shooting roughly league average from deep for the first time in his career at 35.2 percent and up to this point has made 25 threes. That’s 10 triples less than his total mark in his San Antonio career (206 games played) prior to Chicago. In fact, both of his recent back-to-back buzzer-beating game winners in Gainbridge FieldHouse and Capital One Arena were threes.

Chicago’s supporting cast around DeRozan works perfectly for a shooter like him. He has a true bucket-getter in LaVine to compliment him while having defense-minded guards in Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball to make up for his subpar perimeter defense. Not to mention he also has one of the most offensively-skilled big men in the league, Nikola Vučević (who, might I add, is a certified Net killer.)

Everybody (now) knows that DeRozan was a big acquisition for the Bulls, but admittedly few saw him jump to this level. Who would’ve thought a 32-year old three years removed from his last All-Star appearance would be in MVP conversations? I’d like to have a word with them.

On the flip side, LaVine has been Robin to DeRozan’s Batman, but realistically speaking, they’re both playing like Batman … Batmen?

Pop culture comparisons aside, LaVine has been putting up great numbers with insane efficiency. Shooting over 40 percent from three on six plus attempts per night is elite. In the months of December and January alone, LaVine has made more than half the number of threes (45) than Harden has all season (80). This type of shooting allows DeRozan to have space to create for himself. He is, after all, a mid-range maestro who’d prefer to work inside the arc.

DeRozan and LaVine have been a perfect backcourt complement to each other thus far, like peanut butter and jelly, with Caruso and Ball being the two pieces of bread picking up any slack (namely on the defensive end).

Conclusion

I think there can be an argument made for each of the four players to start in the All-Star game, but I have one specific gripe against the voting system. DeRozan should not be labeled as a guard. In all 34 games DeRozan has played, he’s come out as the small forward. Basketball Reference hasn’t listed DeRozan as a guard since 2018-19, and all of ESPN, CBS Sports, and Yahoo! Sports list him as a forward. He should be a starter, though it should be as a forward, not a guard.

That leaves one spot left for either Harden, Young, or LaVine. If Young continues to dominate the way he has, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if he nabs the starting role. He probably would have the spot today if we included the other 50 percent of votes (players and media). If voters want to have a feel-good type of moment then a DeRozan/LaVine backcourt would make the most sense. They’re the two best players on the best team in the East, and Harden is on one of the more despised teams in the NBA although he personally is enormously popular.

Harden has been better over the last two weeks, but, he’ll need to pick it up. Bottom line: he’ll likely lose out on a starting spot. Still, it’s hard to imagine that The Beard will be enjoying time in Turks and Caicos or Cancun on the third weekend of February. He is, after all, James Harden.