James Harden Is a Point God by Sameer Kumar
James Harden has wholly reinvented himself ever since he joined the Brooklyn Nets, as that has helped put the Nets in a prime position to come away with their first championship in franchise history.
James Harden has wholly reinvented himself ever since he joined the Brooklyn Nets, as that has helped put the Nets in a prime position to come away with their first championship in franchise history. The perception of Harden being a ball hog and volume chucker that has plagued him while starring for the Houston Rockets has completely gone out the window. Harden has been not only finding Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving for better looks, but he is also getting the absolute best out of guys like Jeff Green, Joe Harris, Bruce Brown, and Landry Shamet.
Just because Harden doesn’t always look to shoot anymore doesn’t mean he’s still not an elite-level scorer. On just 14.4 field goal attempts per game in their first-round series against the Boston Celtics, Harden averaged an absurd 27.8 points per game in addition to dishing out 10.6 assists per contest.
It’s his understanding of the nuances of the game that makes him so dangerous. He is never in a rush to make a play. He will keep his dribble through the legs and mesmerize you if you’re caught on an island with him. He’ll leave you in a daze for too long that at a certain point, he’ll pull up and either hit the step-back jumper or draw the foul, and he can euro step it to the cup for easy layups if he sees an opening driving down the lane. “The Beard” still loves to score the rock, but it’s his high basketball IQ that allows him to pick his spots and still put up high-scoring totals on relatively low field goal attempts.
On the pick-and-roll, defenders will often go over, as they respect his ability to pull up or drive at any time. However, through the chemistry he’s developed with his teammates, he’ll dump it off to them at their designated spots and trust they’ll make the right play, as it has paid off big time. Brown, in particular, is a guy he’s developed a great synergy with. In Game 4 of the Nets-Celtics series, five of Brown’s six made field goal attempts came off assists from Harden, as Harden worked to find Brown inside the paint. Whether on cuts to the rim for layups and dunks or getting a good position on smaller or similar-sized defenders for floaters and hook shots. That was the game in which Harden set his playoff career-high in assists with 18 of them, falling just one assist shy for most assists in a playoff game in franchise history.
“Just being aggressive, not to score but just to be a playmaker,” Harden said about his playoff career-high in assists. “Credit the guys. They made shots and finished the basketball well, but our pace, our energy, our movement was very, very good. I just saw spots on the floor where I could be aggressive, and when I saw somebody open to get them the ball. We made shots. I just tried to communicate, especially with guys like Bruce, who were on the court to get him going a little bit. You play like that; I don’t know how many assists we had as a team, but play like that, 29 assists, the ball’s moving, guys are getting open shots.”
While the “Big Three” will be the primary option on offense, it’s still essential to get role players involved throughout the game and maximize their minutes off the bench while the stars rest. Harden has carried that responsibility on his shoulders, and it’s been showing. The lingering question has been whether the “Big Three” can willingly defer to one another in certain spots and be in sync with one another to prevent careless turnovers from happening.
However, having Harden out there makes life much easier for the other two superstars. Harden’s threat as a pull-up jump shooter will attract double teams on several occasions, as that will free up Durant and Irving, both among the best scorers in isolation of all-time, to find holes in opposing defenses to put up points on the board. Durant and Irving are at their best when they score the ball after taking multiple dribbles, so having Harden take the playmaking burden off of them will go a long way in the deep trenches of the playoffs.
People’s definitions of point guard frequently change when you account for the modern NBA, but Harden has established himself as a Point, GOD. It’s time we recognize that he’s a combination of multiple great players. He can pass like Jason Kidd, Magic Johnson, John Stockton, LeBron James, and other great floor generals in the game’s history, but he can also put up points in bunches like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
It’s sporadic to have a basketball player so adept at both scoring and playmaking, and it’s a shame that he wasn’t able to get a better supporting cast in Houston to have both of his skill sets manifest themselves to their fullest potential. The one year he had a great supporting cast in Houston was during the 2017-18 season, as Chris Paul was his backcourt mate. However, Paul missed the last two games of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors that season, as the Rockets ended up blowing a 3-2 lead.
The fact that the Rockets were even on the brink of defeating the Warriors is a fantastic feat in itself. Those Warriors teams are arguably the most dominant team of all time. Paul just went down at the wrong time, so there’s always going to be that question of whether or not the Rockets could’ve advanced to the Finals if Paul was healthy. Regardless, Harden has proven to be much more than a high-volume scorer during his time with the Nets, and it’s time we recognize that. These Nets wouldn’t be as dominant as they currently are without Harden and his willingness to take a step back from scoring the ball and using that energy to run the show as a true point guard.