James Harden’s defensive shortcomings aren’t new and they’ve become more than a meme or a viral sensation. It’s a part of the Rockets oeuvre now, especially after Houston came out in the ’15-’16 season and crapped the bed after so much promise from last year’s No. 2 seed and a Conference Finals appearance. During the Rockets’ big Sunday night win over the East’s No. 2 seed this season, the Raptors, Harden again appeared to drift off on defense, barely moving as DeMar DeRozan drove right past him in the final two minutes of a tight game (the Rockets led by two at that point).
Deadspin had some fun with it, as you’d expect, but even ESPN got in on the action with a dated reference to a Kansas song off their ’77 album, Point of Know Return. Looking past the homophone, that album title goes a long way towards explaining what can be so infuriating about the guy with the Beard who used to date Khloe Kardashian, has a big new deal with adidas and doesn’t seem to give a sh*t when he’s on the defensive side of the court.
Despite a herculean effort to get the Rockets so far last year (remember, Dwight missed a huge portion of the regular season), Beard will always be the the defensive sieve with the analytically accurate offensive game.
And the same thing happened Sunday night: Harden was 11-for-20 from the field for 40 points. That’s 40 points on 20 shots, people; that is elite. He also had 14 dimes and just one turnover.
This is not the first time Harden’s had a 40-point, 10-assist game this season, either. He’s done it three other times. So has the entire Association (the other four: Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook and John Wall).
Yes, Harden draws fouls at an inordinate rate; Yes, he pulls up from behind the arc infuriatingly early in the shot clock without elite level shooting; Yes, he can over-dribble with the the best of them, and even finish possessions with the dreaded 20-foot step-back jumper. But he can also, almost single-handedly, carry a so-so team deep in Western Conference playoffs. And there aren’t many players you can say that about.
Also, Harden’s defensive on/off over Houston’s last eight games has been borderline elite (they’ve only gone 4-4 in that span, but it bears mentioning).
We double-checked just to be sure (it’s true) because Twitter is Twitter and a democracy isn’t always right, or accurate. Neither is the notion that Harden is simply a bad defender or that he’s ground zero for what’s plaguing the Rockets this year (no one plays transition defense, including Harden). Should he be more of a leader and lead by example? Sure. But he’s also 26, and Dwight isn’t exactly the best mentor on the leadership front.
We think James Harden is gonna be okay, and we think the Rockets will be, too. (They’re one-and-a-half games up for the final spot in the West, and anything can happen in a seven-game series.)
How about we give Beard a pass on this one?