James Harden is the best offensive player in the NBA, and a lot of people are taking offense with the way he plays the game. The most polarizing player in a long time, Harden is the embodiment of the analytics movement. The numbers back him up, but the playoffs and the eye test don’t. Last night, all his frustration with his reputation came out in a split second.
With 4 minutes to go in the 1st quarter, Harden was going to the free-throw line. Nobody was shocked, as Harden’s been doing it over 14 times a game this season. We didn’t take a poll, but I’m confident to say a lot of people were annoyed. One fan couldn’t take it and told Harden what a lot of people were thinking.
The quickness of Harden’s reaction shows you how sensitive he is to this issue. Almost every podcast you listen to or story you read about the Rockets or Harden, reporters point out they have never seen so many active and retired players openly dislike the way Harden plays the game. For instance, Brian Windhorst talked about Scottie Pippen, giving him a 20 minute monologue on this topic and trying to convince him not to vote Harden for MVP. Harden knows it too.
Last All-Star, we heard Steph Curry talk to a person on the sideline, telling them he just had a conversation with Harden, who started explaining himself that he didn’t want to play that way, but he had to for the sake of the team. It is obvious Harden’s reputation bothers him. A reminder, the Rockets started horribly, a lot of players were injured, and it was basically Harden and the G-League. Harden’s numbers were insane, and he carried them to the playoffs. You could say there was some justification for it.
This year, he is taking the same amount of shots, his free throw average is up from 11 to 14.4, and he is playing the same amount of minutes, 36.8 per game. But unlike last season this time, he has Westbrook, Capella, and PJ Tucker on the court. What would be his explanation this time?
The answer Harden gave to the fan, “Nobody wants to see fouls either, God damn it!” makes it seem like Harden doesn’t want to get fouled. At least he thinks that to be true. This is where his perception of reality greatly differs from everybody else on Planet Earth. Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote about the flopping epidemic, and we located Harden as the patient zero – we called it. “The Harden virus.”
If you have such a game that fouling you is your opponents’ only chance, that’s not your fault. Shaq got fouled a lot, but it never seemed he was fishing for fouls, starting a play with the obvious intention to get fouled. Harden sometimes plays in a way where it is obvious he is looking at how to get a foul out of it. That is what a lot of people hold against him. Yes, free throws are “the most efficient shot in basketball,” but when you do shit like this, don’t act like you didn’t want to get fouled.