Regardless of how good James Harden is or how historic his offensive run this season has been, haters gonna hate.Photo by Jeff Balke
For the second straight year, James Harden is clearly the MVP of the NBA. With all due respect to the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Harden is performing, especially on offense, at a level we haven't seen since before the merger. He is breaking or matching records that were set more than 50 years ago. They weren't broken by Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant or Larry Bird or Magic Johnson or Lebron James or even Hakeem Olajuwon. He is, simply put, the most mesmerizing offensive talent we have seen in a half century.
But that hasn't stopped the critics from bemoaning his status as one of the league's greats. This is not to say NBA writers, players, coaches or GMs agree. They don't. Still, the very fact that Derrick Rose is leading him in All-Star balloting for guards speaks volumes. He is routinely bagged on by fans and even some, let's call them, sports talk pundits, not for what he is doing, but for how he is doing it. They rely on myths about who he is as a player to degrade a season he is producing for the ages.
We are hear to debunk five of those myths.
In the Rockets overtime win against the Lakers last weekend, Harden repeatedly had opportunities to reach 50 points. It would have made him the first player to score 50 three straight times since Bryant did it. It's a rare accomplishment. But to do so may have risked the team's win. There wasn't an opportunity in the flow of the offense for him to do it. He finished with 48. Oh, and he is also third in assists in the NBA despite leading the NBA scoring title race by six points.
He doesn't play defense.
Honestly, this was always overblown to a degree. Harden is never going to have the tenacious defensive skills of Bryant or Jordan. But he was also not nearly as derelict as the now-infamous YouTube video allegedly showing his lack of attention on defense tried to demonstrate. Even if it were, that is certainly no longer the case. Statistically, he is one of the best post defenders in the NBA regardless of size and he's fourth in the league in steals. Given how hard he has to work on the offensive end of the floor every night, those numbers are remarkable.
He shoots too many free throws.
As others have pointed out, Harden is shooting the same number of free throws per game that Bryant shot during his historic 16-game streak of scoring 30 or more points per game (Harden made it to 20 on Monday night in a loss at Philadelphia). Besides, he is being fouled. If you don't want him to shoot free throws, don't foul him. The problem isn't that he is taking so many free throws. The problem is he is so damn unguardable, teams often have no choice but to foul him.
His step back three pointer is traveling.
In short, yes, it is. NBA officials have said so. No one disputes it except fans who don't fully understand the rules. Need a better explanation? Try this video.
It's the era, not the player.
This is perhaps the most idiotic of all the arguments. Of course every era is different, but there have been times when the Association's teams were more prolific than they are today. Numerous times in fact. Yet, here we are with James Harden setting ridiculous records, Wilt Chamberlin, Oscar Robertson records, no less. And it doesn't change the fact that he is still hitting shots. You think just anyone could hit step back three pointers at a 40-plus percent rate and be near the top of the league in free throws taken and points off the dribble? If so, then we can't help you.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.