In a recent interview for The Player's Tribune, Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler talked about the five toughest players to guard in the NBA. Butler is having a great season so far with the Miami Heat and is still one of the best two-way players in the NBA. Butler's assignment apart from scoring the basketball is to guard the best shooting guards and small forwards on the opposing team, and his defense is something he was known for since he came to the NBA.
Butler said the toughest players to guard in the NBA are LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Stephen Curry. Despite all their greatness, according to Butler, the toughest one to guard is none other than James Harden. That doesn't come as much of a surprise if you been paying close attention to him playing basketball this season. Butler thinks Harden's biggest strength is that he is continuously adding new moves to his repertoire, which frustrates defenders who no longer know how to defend him.
"Step-back. Floater. Euro step. He has so much in his package, and he's always hitting tough shots. I mean, he's creating new sh*t in the off-season where he's shooting one-legged, step-back, side-step … pretty soon he's gonna do a handstand and kick the motherf***er in the basket. I'm just being real. This is what James Harden does."
Butler is fully aware of all the moves Harden is capable of doing, but the step back became his most recognizable even though he wasn't the one who invented it, but he perfected it. A lot of people think Harden travels on those step-backs, but Butler's mindset is that if the refs don't call, then it's not a travel.
"Everything he does starts with his step-back. He's legendary for it. Some people say it's a travel. I say if the ref doesn't call it, I'm all for it. Find a way to stop it, travel or not. But his whole attack is built off that step-back. He hangs the ball out there and teases you with it, and then he waits for you to make a move. He's reading you. Whatever you decide to do, he's got a counter for it. Because if you give him too much space, he's gonna take the step-back, and probably make it. If you get too close to him — if you try to get up into him and take the shot away — he's either going to lean into you and draw a foul or blow right by you and take it to the basket."
Harden is currently leading the NBA with 37.7 points per game, and scoring 40 or 50 points has become a standard for him. Butler thinks there is no real game plan for him because you know he is going to give you 40 with ease.
"He's one of those guys you game plan for. Like you go into the game saying, "We're not gonna let James drop 40 on us. And he still drops 40 on you."