His faulty defense has been the topic de jure since video clips of him snoozing on D came up at the beginning of last season. He’s reverted back to that defensive apathy already this season and there was a pretty overt oversight for Team USA on their way to a World Championship over the summer and fall.
Still, he’s capable of the spectacular on that end of the floor. That’s why his ability to play decent defense while dragging a Rockets team decimated by injuries into the 2-seed in the West should be applauded.
It happened again today with his Rockets leading 97-91 over the Wizards with under 30 seconds to play. He hustled back on defense to snuff out a seemingly open Bradley Beal three-pointer that could have turned it into a one-possession game:
Harden finished with a team-high 24 points, six dimes, three rebounds, two steals and the block. He didn’t shoot particularly well (7/20), but he was 9-of-10 from the stripe and prevented the Beal three.
Harden’s right around league average in defensive real plus-minus, so let’s try to tone down the tired refrain about him as a negative defender, especially with MVP talk heating up over the next couple of weeks. It’s worth mentioning he’s mediocre on the defensive end, but it’s no longer a glaring weakness in his game, and most of it can be attributed to how hard he has to work to create offense on this banged up Rockets team. The fact Houston has the No. 2 record in the West is a testament to his overall game this season.