James Harden’s defense was porous far before the casual NBA fan realized it. The direction of popular opinion hedged its present destination at the beginning of last season, when videos of Harden falling asleep off-ball and getting roasted off-dribble by subpar wings began making the internet rounds. By the time 2013-2014 was over and enough talking head criticism and video footage had been compiled to call Harden the league’s worst defender, the amount of scrutiny was already over the top. When a new compilation of Harden’s defensive failings were compiled by an excellent YouTube user in April, even more fuel was added to the fire.
You know the video by now. Must-follow YouTuber How U released this 11-minute, 31-second highlight reel of Harden’s oft-laughable defensive shortcomings in late April. It’s title? “James Harden, Defensive Juggernaut.”
Countless other videos, clips, GIFs, and more have further criticized defense of the All-NBA First Teamer in the interim – some of which have been given the spotlight at Dime.
But via USA Today’s Sam Amick, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey recently singled-out the lengthy, most popular video for painting an inaccurate portrayal of Harden’s actual defensive performance:
“For whatever reason, it has taken on a life of its own,” Morey says about the criticism about Harden’s defense. “You’ve got people doing a 10-minute YouTube clip that everyone references, and I just ask anyone, ‘Take your worst 10 minutes from your job the last year and just take those worst 10 minutes and put them in a YouTube clip.’ I’m guessing it wouldn’t come out very well for anybody. That, to me, was completely unfair. That bothered me in a big way. Without context, you can grab 10 minutes of anyone and make them look like (expletive). I think reality TV proves that.”
Now, it’s crucial to note that Morey isn’t solely castigating the creator of the viral video for picking-and-choosing specifically bad plays in assessing Harden’s defense. All out outlets covering the NBA have done so, and fans have taken that information and ran with it – they come here and elsewhere to ascertain league insight to which they’re otherwise not aware, after all. It’s our job to inform.
Morey’s point is that the media and league Twitter analysts have used a pointed agenda to write a misleading story of his superstar’s defensive play. He’s not wrong, either.
There are approximately 100 possessions in a NBA game. Harden might forget who he’s guarding, get beat back-door, or exercise general apathy on the defensive end on three of them, and those are the ones that are highlighted. Not the 97 others in which he performs perfectly adequate or sometimes solid defense. Those clips almost always ignore context, too.
Take this play from the FIBA World Cup, for instance. It appears as if Harden is content to simply allow an inferior athlete a dead layup because that’s indeed what happens:
What you wouldn’t know unless you were watching the game – and what many sites failed to mention while writing it up, including us – is that Harden had picked up two quick fouls in its opening minutes. Players are allowed just five fouls in FIBA competition, and Harden was doing everything he could to avoid picking up his third. Makes sense, right?
But on only a small, small fraction of the 920,000-plus times that Vine has been watched has the viewer been privy to that information. And it makes all the difference! That’s what Morey is getting at here. Though he has obvious reason to come to Harden’s defense, too, it’s still a fair take. Highlight reels are just that – highlights, or in this case, lowlights.
Harden could make things easier by implementing more focus on that end, and has stressed all summer that’s something we’ll see in 2014-2015. We’re thrilled he’s recognized his deficiencies and has narrowed-in on fixing them. But rest assured that you’ll see more clips like those Morey is scrutinizing even if Harden makes defensive strides. It’s the nature of the information era, unfortunately, and reputations are hard to change.
Nevertheless, here’s hoping Harden can begin to do it this season.
(Vine via Mike Prada)
What do you think?
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