The Secret To James Harden’s Dominance In Isolation

11.01.17 6 months ago

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As much as James Harden’s game changed under Mike D’Antoni last season, he still relied on isolations to create nearly a quarter of his offense. He didn’t lead the league in isolation frequency — that honor went to Jamal Crawford and Harrison Barnes — but nobody scored more points in isolation than Harden on the season. It wasn’t much different from the season before, when Harden finished at the top of the NBA in both isolation frequency (24.2 percent) and isolation scoring (524).

For perspective, Harden’s volume in isolation is usually greater than half of the teams in the NBA. With 537 isolation points last season, Harden outscored 13 teams by himself. It was a slight decrease from the 2015-16 season, when Harden outscored 15 teams in isolation. Considering he ranked in the 74.2 percentile with 0.93 points per possession in 2015-16 and the 76.3 percentile with 0.97 points per possession in 2016-17, it’s generally an efficient way for him to create points for himself and others depending on how teams choose to defend him.

Harden’s ability to break his defender down as easily and frequently as he does begins with his pull-up. He attempted 554 pull-ups from the perimeter last season and converted them at a 33.2 percent clip. The former was the highest mark in the league, besting even Stephen Curry’s 413 pull-up attempts from the 3-point line. Harden isn’t necessarily the most accurate shooter in those situations, but being able to make one in every three at his volume (6.8 pull-up 3-pointers per game) forces the defense to account for him far beyond the 3-point line.

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