In the doldrums of the summer, the topic of who the best shooting guard in the NBA would come about to fill time. I didn’t give much thought to them, and assumed the Rockets’ James Harden had to be in the discussion. But the more I have come to watch him, the less I would say that to be a lock of any sort due to his defensive efforts and late game decision-making skills.
Last week arose this video of Harden entitled, “James Harden, Defensive Juggernaut”. I’m sorry- I can’t hear you through the sarcasm. Missed coverages and broken ankles abound. The dude is clueless on defense, and there is literally no defending it.
It was only made clearer by his debut in the 2014 NBA Playoffs on Sunday Night against the Trailblazers. He was torched left and right by Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum. When he has to switch with either Lin or Beverley, the defense is put at a disadvantage. His last effort is to toss up his arms in a flailing motion so that he can say he “tried”. Whether it’s him being bad, lazy or just trying to save energy for the offensive side, it’s a hindrance to Houston’s title hopes.
The team is fortunate enough to have Dwight Howard patrolling the paint and Chandler “Swiss Army Knife” Parsons at the three. Patrick Beverley has been their best defender all year, and it showed in Game 1. He is all over the floor. Whether it’s in the ball-handler’s grill, or helping on double-teams- Beverley does not have an off switch. He doesn’t limit himself in hopes of having more energy on offense. His aggressive nature knows no limits because that is what helped him become the team’s starting point guard. The only thing that slows him down is a torn meniscus suffered in the regular season.
I CAN’T BE YOUR HERO
That group is what bails Harden out defensively. But if he ever wants to be considered the best shooting guard, he’ll need to sharpen not only the physical skills but the mental ones, too. A lot of times, scorers get sucked into playing “hero ball”. It’s a form of isolation with a little more hot-dogging involved. Harden is famous for this, and chose to do it at the worst of times in Game 1. With 17 seconds to go in the game off of a timeout, Harden possessed the ball for six seconds before chucking up a 25-foot three-point shot that bricked off the rim. During that play, Dwight Howard gets called for his sixth foul- one the NBA admitted to fudging. Yet the whole sequence never had to happen at all.
If you go by numbers, Harden shot 36 percent from the three-point line during the season. He shot 86 percent from the charity stripe. Harden attempted 9.1 free throws per game, second behind Kevin Durant. He is known as one of the best at creating contact and getting to the line. So why the hero-ball three in crunch time?
Basketball IQ. It’s what separates the Kobe Bryant’s from the J.R. Smith’s. The LaMarcus Aldridge’s from the Andrea Bargnani’s. Harden is by no means an unintelligent player- he is just still learning the NBA game and how to carry the load as a superstar. It will come to him in time (or so Houston fans hope). It’s not like he is selfish like Carmelo Anthony, as evidenced by his 6.1 assists per game. He knows how to get people involved, has the personnel to do so yet at times chooses not to.
Harden’s weaknesses are plain as day and a growing pain to a relatively new team still carving out its identity. If the Rockets have any hope to advance in the West, he’ll have to tighten up his game both on defense and in crunch-time.
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