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L.A. Clippers Have to Trust the System with James Harden

Nov 14, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; LA Clippers guard James Harden (1) during the first quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Whether it was fully necessary or not, the Los Angeles Clippers bolstered for more star playing ability and passing scenarios by trading for disgruntled star guard James Harden. The move for Harden wasn’t easy or short to make as both the Clippers and 76ers continued to alter the trade packages. When it was time for Harden to debut for the Clippers, it was anything but smooth. There were too many games that featured ball-dominant players, while the defensive intensity and effort were terrible.

In the past two games against the Denver Nuggets and the Houston Rockets, the Clippers are starting to establish their rhythm with Harden rolling with the offense. The Clippers have scored 108 points in their loss to Denver this past Tuesday. They got their win after the Harden trade, beating the Houston Rockets thanks to a clutch four-point play in the final seconds. This is the first sign of potential with Harden in the 213 era in a potential do-or-die season for a championship. As much as many fans don’t want to hear this, the Clippers need to trust the process with the system of Harden. 

L.A. Clippers Have to Trust the System with James Harden

James Harden Knows His Role with the Clippers

For the past few seasons with the Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers, Harden has understood that isn’t the primary scorer. With the Nets, he trusted Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to be the star players. In Philadelphia, he facilitated the offense next to center Joel Embiid. His relationship with Durant and Irving fell apart when Irving wasn’t playing games despite being healthy. His relationship with 76ers general manager Daryl Morey fell apart due to personal conflicts.

When joining the Clippers, Harden’s goal was not to be an elite scorer again, it was to maximize his productivity across the board. Since joining the Clippers, he has slowed down the intensity of the offense. The Clippers have averaged 105.2 points per game in the six games after trading for Harden. In the first five games of the season, the Clippers have averaged 121.4 points per game. The offensive intensity was high with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook leading. After the addition of Harden, the pacing of the offense decreased because George allowed others to take control.

Harden knows he can’t be the sole contributor to the Clippers’ offense, but he has to be more than a passer. In the first four games with the Clippers, Harden averaged 13.5 points per game, shooting 47.2% from the field and 36.8% from three-point range. He also averaged 4.7 assists. In the games against Denver and Houston, Harden has been more aggressive with the offense. He has averaged 22.5 points per game, shooting 57.5% from the field and 41.7% from three while averaging 5.5 assists per game.

The Clippers Have Their Key Lineup Established

Harden was starting to feel comfortable with the offense of the Clippers against the Nuggets. That game featured Westbrook and Harden on the court as the two floor generals. The offense needs to be more simple with an all-around offensive star in Harden, two dynamic scorers in George and Leonard, a force in the boards in center Ivica Zubac and an all-around role player in Terance Mann. Mann has been the key for the Clippers, as he is the player to rely on for intensity, defensive efficiency, rebounding and scoring when needed.

Westbrook is the court general for the bench and can come in when he needs to provide more intensity and drives to the basket. He provides more speed to the offense than Harden if need be.

The biggest problem with the Clippers is the reliability of the starting center in Zubac and the depth in the paint, especially with the injury to center Mason Plumlee. Adding Daniel Theis helps, but he doesn’t fix the problems with depth. The Clippers will need to compensate for the lack of height with speed, effort and intensity. The Clippers need more intensity and effort as the cold streaks occur. But this process with Harden takes time, which the Clippers have this early into the season.


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