James Harden Has Become Unguardable
The NBA court is a rather inhospitable place for a superstar. Those who make it to that level earn the full magnitude of an opponent’s attention. Coaches and scouts comb through game film for every possible weakness. There are reports written about a player’s shaky left hand, a reliance on spin moves, or a tendency to pick up their dribble too early—reports that will be given, with great detail, in a team walkthrough before the game. Help defenses in the NBA are as sophisticated as they’ve ever been, and they are generally oriented to take away the most valuable shots from the best players on the floor. Respect, in other words, is just another way to get exposed.
One of the triumphs of James Harden is that his game has been fully vetted but never really solved. Some opponents naturally give Harden more trouble than others. (And some playoff opponents, in particular.) Yet in all their collective attempts to stop him, the best defenders and strategists in the league—who put their theories to the test in full view of one another—have yet to come up with anything resembling a unified approach. Since being traded to Houston in 2012, Harden has scored more points than anyone in the NBA and outscored his closest competition (LeBron James) by over 2,500 and counting. No player in the past three years has had the ball in his hands more than Harden. All that trial and error, and the league at large seems as flummoxed by Harden as ever.
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