• Print

Step By Step

Despite inauspicious origins, James Harden's Eurostep now one of league's most lethal weapons

HOUSTON - One of the most lethal offensive weapons in the NBA today began as an utterly unmemorable joke.

Ask James Harden about the origins of his now signature Eurostep and the Rockets’ All-Star can’t even recall the first time he used it in a game. He knows it was unveiled at some point during his rookie season, but he’s at a loss when asked where it happened or against whom. And forget about any grand inklings of world domination that might have been spawned in its immediate wake. Harden had no idea at the time that he had just taken his first two-step toward what would one day become a move nearly as synonymous with his brand as is his fantastical facial hair.

“I can’t remember when my first one was,” he admits. “I worked on it after college. I was just taking it for a joke in the beginning, just messing around with it in pick-up games or games with friends. Once I realized the move actually worked and I could be creative with it, then I just took it from there and tried to master it.

“To be honest, I didn’t even notice it until two years ago when I started getting to the free throw line a lot more and just started getting to the basket a lot easier – it just kind of opened my entire game up.”

Hard as it may be to believe that such a devastating maneuver could be born amid such inauspicious beginnings, there is no denying the mastery Harden has achieved or the impact its addition has made to his already über-efficient arsenal of offensive weapons. From the vice-like grip he employs on the ball as he extends those go-go-Gadget arms, to the powerful core that produces the explosive change of direction necessary to propel him past shell-shocked defenders, the 24-year-old obviously possesses the ideal physical tools that allow him to effectively wield such a weapon.

What should not be overlooked in this Eurostepping success story, however, is the dutiful, diligent mind that has also enabled Harden to maximize the dividends he derives from his perfection of the art. Regardless of the fact it began as more of a lark, once Harden realized the gambit was something he could put to good use he was savvy enough to study the likes of preeminent Eurostep practitioners Manu Ginobili and Dwayne Wade. He devoured their every shimmy, thrust and feint and went to work in the lab until he emerged with a move every bit as destructive and unstoppable as the ones that had served as the basis for his basketball experiment.

The results speak for themselves. Harden’s free throw rate has nearly doubled since his rookie season in the NBA (he’s gone from averaging five free throws per 36 minutes in 2009-10 to leading the league with a 9.6 average a year ago), he led the league in and-1s (per Hoopdata.com) in 2012-13, and he is an absolute menace when barreling down the lane via either pick-and-rolls or in transition – a fact new teammate Dwight Howard remembers all too well from his playing days in Los Angeles and Orlando.

“The Eurostep is just so hard to defend,” Howard explains. “You’ve got somebody coming at you full speed. Most guys … they want to take charges so once they get their feet set to take a charge, he just bounces around them. You never know which way (he’s) going to step. You try to stop the first step, but then James does it a different way every time.

“I remember last season when we played, I was running back full speed, I got in front of him and I’m thinking, ‘OK, I’m going to set him up for a blocked shot,’ and he did some kind of Eurostep real fast where he just went right past my shoulder … I wasn’t even expecting it. It’s pretty sick.”

As with any effective go-to move, Harden’s mastery is such that everything about it comes second nature to him now. There is no thinking required – only instinct and explosion.

“I don’t even give it a thought,” Harden says. “It’s me. It’s who I am now – it’s kind of like the beard. I just read the defense and go from there.”

And rest assured, when James Harden’s deadly dance down the lane begins, no one thinks he’s joking anymore.