2012-13 Season in review: the Thunder without James Harden

USA TODAY Sports

The James Harden trade impacted two franchises dramatically. How did the Thunder recover?

Cause and effect.

Progression and regression.

Action Reaction.

These are all phrases that come to mind when I think about the trade that sent James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets. For a few months I have been thinking more and more about that trade and the impact it had on the two franchises. Right now the impact on the two franchises breaks down as being huge for one team and gigantic for the other. I am sure you can figure out which adjective applies to which team.

Cause and Effect.

For the Thunder, the biggest impact of the James Harden trade is seen most with the offensive production for the entire team. There are degrees to which this impact can be seen. In regard to the Thunder's two superstar players, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook the offensive statistical impact is slight. Among many of the more common offensive stats (points, rebounds, assist field goal percentage, three point percentage, free throw percentage) the biggest jump is seen in Westbrook's assists that went from 5.5 in 2011-12 to 7.5 in 2012-13. The biggest impact the Harden trade had on this two's offensive games is not seen in the stats. It is seen when you watch "real" basketball. It is seen in the play making ability of the players. There is more to it then knowing that you need to involve your supporting cast of teammates in order to be a well balanced team. The ability of Durant and Westbrook to understand how to get their teammates involved. That is something James Harden as very good at doing while a member of the Thunder. Knowing where on the floor certain players like to get the ball and what spots and what hand they like to catch the ball is what increases the value of said role players.

Progression and Regression.

The biggest offensive impact the Harden trade is very evident in the increased production of the role players for the Thunder. Without James Harden, Serge Ibaka's offensive production has jumped dramatically across the board. Ibaka's PGA went from 9.1 in 11-12 to 13.3 this season to go along with shooting from 57.3 FG% (53.5% in 11-12) 35.1 % from three (33.3% in 11-12) and shooting 75% from the line (66% in 11-12)

Thabo Sefolosha offensive game has also been a benefactor of Harden's departure with almost a 3 points per game increase in his scoring. In my opinion the biggest benefactor of the James Harden trade is Reggie Jackson. The numbers don't necessarily reflect it but when you watch Jackson play you can see the growth that from last season to this season and the growth from game to game. Now, some of Jackson's success could be due to the fact that it is year two for him. Rule of thumb is that a player makes his biggest leap from his rookie to his sophomore season. My retort to that is with James Harden on this team Reggie Jackson sees very little time in the fourth quarter of close games. That experience will prove to be vital during the Thunder's playoff run.

Action and Reaction.

The Thunder traded James Harden and went on to win 60+ games and capture the top see in the Western Conference so clearly this trade was a win for OKC. I have joked before that when it comes to James Harden being traded that I am in the camp of beating a dead horse about it being a bad trade of the Thunder. I stand by that completely. Yes, the Thunder have a better record this season but that is a short term achievement. In the long term the Thunder will be worse without James Harden. I was very bullish on what Harden's upside could ultimately be in the NBA and he has proven me dead wrong. Harden went from being a pretty good player to being a impact All-Star player who is proving that the gap between him and Westbrook is a lot closer than people thought. The action of trading Harden has resulted in more discussion about winners and losers. In the present the reaction is that Thunder have not missed a step but once the off season hits and Kevin Martin is wearing a different jersey and Jeremy Lamb continues to find his way in the NBA the reaction can change greatly.

I leave you with one fun question. If James Harden is still a member of the OKC Thunder is he a starter or does he continue to come off the bench?

***

Follow me on Twitter @craig_a_brenner

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