This is NOT a “Bash Harden” piece. With that being said, Houston fans may want to avert their eyes.
One month ago I wrote a story that pointed out the multitude of flaws inherent in James Harden’s game such as an apathy to defense and questionable leadership skills. I said that The Beard had a while to go before showing NBA fans that he is more than just flash, empty stats, endorsements, ugly sneakers, wild outfits and Sportscenter highlights.
A month ago, he was averaging 28 points and seven assists per game. Today, that has remained largely unchanged at 28.5 points and 7.4 assists.
On paper, those are easily on par with any superstar NBA player.
But his assist to turnover ratio remains one of the worst in the league. Steph Curry, by comparison, averages over a turnover fewer per game (4.5 to 3.2), shoots a much better overall percentage (.507 to .432) and shoots better from behind the arc as well.
But that’s nothing new. I am only listing his shortcomings relative to the reigning MVP because Harden believes he is on Curry’s level and should have been league MVP.
Leadership is a skill that doesn’t show up on any box score, but anyone who has ever wanted a better boss has an idea of the type of person they would respond to. You know, the type of guy old folks used to say they would get in a “foxhole” with?
The eye test tells me Harden just isn’t one of those people. It’s one of those intangibles that you simply have or you don’t.
Even if a person doesn’t want to be a leader, either because they are lacking in the ability or have an aversion to the title altogether, there are simply situations in life where we have to lead or our entire team (corporate, military, athletic) will fail.
Because he is the face of the franchise, his habits eventually become synonymous with the playing style of his entire team. Harden isn’t a good man-to-man defender and the Rockets are near the bottom of the league in team defense: tied for 26th with the Los Angeles Lakers. Harden’s three-point field goal percentage is .343 and Houston is 21st in the league shooting threes at .344 percent.
Effort is one of those intangibles that does show up on the box score in the form of rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots. Though he can stuff a stat sheet, Harden’s effort has been called into question in the past as well. Coincidence or not, Houston ranks 21st in the league in rebounds, 17th in assists and 13th in blocks.
The Rockets do rank 1st in the NBA steals per game. Houston is also among the NBA’s top three teams in fourth quarter scoring. However, those two positives are actually indicative of a team scrambling to stay in games in which they find themselves in deep holes thanks to their porous defense in the previous three quarters. It's a trait that Harden has done next to nothing to help bolster.
He even did a commercial joking about his own poor defense.
The Houston Rockets lost to the Utah Jazz last night and effectively fell out of the Western Conference playoff picture. They blew an 18-point lead. Again Harden turned in a stat stuffer performance that looks outstanding on the surface, 26 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and eight steals are tremendous, but ultimately empty.
A deeper look reveals that he shot below 40 percent from the field and was 2 of 6 from behind the arc. Dwight Howard, a player who needs to be spoon-fed the ball to be effective on offense, was 2 for 6 from the field in 34 minutes of play. A total waste of a player who can still give you 20 and 10 once or twice a week.
That all falls on the person dominating the ball on offense, James Harden. Sacrificing stats for the betterment of the team is leadership too.