James Harden is having one of the best offensive seasons the NBA has ever seen. Just the other night he entered Madison Square Garden in search of his signature performance inside the most iconic, historic arena that seen as the Mecca of basketball. In a win over the Knicks, he put up absurd numbers scoring 61 PTS grabbing 15 REBS dishing 4 ASTS while getting 5 Steals.
Over the last month and a half, he has been on an offensive tear that has him in rarefied air with some of the greatest scorers the league has ever seen. During this stretch his stat line is mind-boggling he’s averaging 43.1 PTS, 7.9 ASTS, 8.4 REBS. He is attempting 15 3 pointers and making 6, and he’s playing 38.9 minutes a game. The Rockets are 15-6 over this stretch of games and currently sit as the number 5 seed in the loaded western conference. During this stretch, he has shouldered a heavy load. Chris Paul has been out with hamstring injury and Capela has been out the last 5 games due to a torn ligament in his finger.
After one of his stellar performances during the post-game media session his teammate, Chris Paul stated he was the best scorer in NBA history. With performances like the one he had in the Garden, it’s getting increasingly hard to dispute Paul’s claim. Although he’s not the greatest scorer he is definitely on the short list of the greatest scorers to ever play the game. A list that consists of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlin, Jerry West, Allen Iverson, and Steph Curry. All these players listed could score the basketball in a variety of different ways. Some even created a signature move that could not be defended. Jabber’s skyhook for example, or Michael Jordan’s fadeaway.
Harden is at the point of his historic run that two questions come up. How do you guard him? Can he keep this up?
How Do You Guard James Harden?
There is no one defense or defender that can stop an elite scorer such as James Harden. For starters, he is a left-handed player this makes him harder to defend. Harden has a full repertoire of moves in his offensive arsenal. He can handle, he can drive, he can pass, and he possesses one of the deadliest offensive moves the game has ever seen the step back jumper.
First, you need a defender who is long and agile. Ideally, someone who is between 6’6’’ and 6’8”. Someone who has the discipline not to reach out at his dribble but is long enough to contest his jump shot. Secondly, you want to force him to his right hand. He is still good going right, but he is dominant going to his left.
Third, you want to make him play defense. One way to stop a scorer is to have someone go at him on the defensive end and try to wear him down a little bit. With all that being said you probably limited him to 30 points instead of the 40 point and 50 point games he's been putting up during this stretch.
Lastly, if none of those things work we can always treat him like Sampson in the Bible. When Sampson’s hair was cut off he lost all his power. Maybe a team can sneak into his hotel room and cut his beard off the night before a game. I'm convinced that Harden’s beard is giving him superpowers. In all seriousness, a team should apply the other 3 tactics if they want to have any chance at slowing Harden down.
Can He Keep This Up?
The obvious answer is no, but I thought he would have slowed down a week ago. That has not been the case he has scored 57, 58, 48, 37, and 61 points in his last five games. The only silver lining for opponents is Chris Paul is set to make his return real soon. That should lower his usage rate and his overall offensive production. Capela should be back from his injury after the All-Star break, and Harden will have his favorite lob target and offensive weapon back. So his big scoring outputs should taper off.
What we are watching from James Harden is something historic. Performances and players of Harden’s caliber do not come around too often. Rockets fans should be concerned if Harden will have anything left in the tank come playoff time. Is he the best scorer to ever play? It's possible he could be, but I would caution NBA fans not to be prisoners of the moment. There have been other great scorers to come before Harden. My advice is to enjoy the great performances and worry about his place in history once he retires from the game.