James Harden is hated. A lot. It never really hit me until today when the All NBA Teams were announced. I had expected Harden to be on there so at first glance I initially looked past it, but then when someone brought it to my attention I went on a mini rant.
There was much more than that but these were the central points of my case for Harden’s obvious snub from making the team. James Harden last year led the Rockets to the Western Conference Finals and everyone still saw them as a joke. This year the Rockets started the season 4-7 then the players had a players meeting that led to the firing of their coach Kevin McHale. Then J.B. Bickerstaff was promoted and a circus went on for the rest of the season. There was speculation that Harden separated himself from the rest of the team and that him and Dwight were butting heads. Dwight wished to have a bigger role on the team and the team wanted him to do nothing more than set picks, rebound, and play defense. Understandably after the success Dwight has reached in his own right he was not happy about this and was phased out of the offense essentially. The Rockets fell to pieces and Morey wasn’t able to pick up the right band aids for Harden to carry them along like he was last year. The team went from 56 wins and a Western Conference Finals appearance to a 41 team that was out in 5 games. Many are pushing this blame on to Harden and some of it is warranted. Harden is not a leader, he can be selfish, and his play on defense is lackluster to say the least. My question is though was he a top 6 guard this year? Was his play on the court enough to warrant the type of praise that comes with being named to an All NBA Team?
Well Harden this year averaged 29.0 points 6.1 rebounds 7.5 assists while shooting a true shooting percentage of 59.8%. (For those wondering what true shooting percentage is, it basically is a percentage on your entire efficiency as a player valuing a 3 pointer for what it is and free throws for their worth but for more in depth information click here.) The only other players to put up 29 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists a game in a season are Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Oscar Robertson. Just a taste of what Harden has done this year. He had 13.3 win shares this year and you can find the raw numbers and such in the tweets shown above. The idea of win shares is to give a number to the contributions a player gives to their team. LeBron James during his Heat years got about 15 win shares a year, Kevin Durant his MVP season gathered 19 win shares and so on. These win shares increase with the more wins a player’s team gets and so on. Harden gathering 13.3 win shares on a 41 win team is a one of many examples showing his impact and the load he was carrying this year.(Of course there is an actual formula to win shares that I will not bore anyone with.)
I could go on and on showing his numbers, but what about his team? Many see Dwight Howard’s recent fall from grace somehow Harden’s fault. Hell Chris Broussard (A great journalist might I add) in his power rankings for the week of March 23rd had this to say about Harden.
“His warts this season have been aplenty, and not just on the defensive end. His inability to get the best out of Dwight Howard, his turnovers and his club’s rapid descent into mediocrity are all big negatives.”
So hold up, Dwight Howard playing bad is Harden’s fault? Well getting others involved is a part of being a great NBA superstar, but is Dwight’s drop in production really Harden’s fault? One Dwight has been vocal about is his want for more touches in the offense. On TNT, Dwight mentioned going to Daryl Morey asking to be more involved in the offense and apparently Morey responded by basically saying he did not want Howard more involved in the offense. So if the coach and entire front office is telling Harden to not involve Dwight as that is the game plan is it his fault Dwight is not getting touches? Some would say it is, but do you defy the man/woman writing your checks? Harden is not LeBron. Harden is not the type of person to demand things and take over the coaching aspect during timeouts.
While we are on the topic of Dwight Howard, let’s look at his numbers. In the post out 39 players who had at least 160 possession in post ups Dwight ranked 31st in points per possession and 17th in effective field goal percentage. One of the main problems with Dwight though is his incredibly high turnover rate in these possession in which 16.5% of his possession ended in a turnover which would rank 6th worst and he gets fouled at the 4th highest percentage of his possession in the post at 16.8%. With those numbers in mind while also factoring in the fact that he shoots a pitiful 48.9% from the free throw line, my question is this. Who in their right mind would think passing to Dwight in the post would be a good thing? These things are not Harden’s fault. How could they be? Dwight is simply an awful option in the post and there is no reason to go out of your way to give him the ball.
Now let’s get to the defense. There are always those people who will say things like this.
There seems to be this idea that Harden’s offense is completely offset by his defense. This is simply not true. First thing is that only two shooting guard this year went off on the Rockets and those two were Kobe Bryant, who posted 35 points in a game the Rockets won by 20 and J.J. Redick who scored 40 in an 8 point win over the Clippers. So 2 out of 82 games players really gave Harden fits on defense, while Harden is averaging 29 points a game. Now let’s look at the on/off court numbers. The Rockets defensively were .7 points better with Harden off the floor (The Heat who were .9 points better without Whiteside who finished 3rd in DPOY voting on the floor). So, yes Harden has a negative effect to his team’s defense; I know, that’s a big revelation. Offensively though the Rockets are 8.3 points better with Harden on the floor this season. So, that evens out to a 7.6 net rating on the floor. The notion that his defensive woes somehow outweigh or even balance his offensive arsenal out is just not true. His offensive impact outweighs his defensive missteps, and it is just a fact.
So why is this a common belief among many NBA fans? Well I showed the quote of one ignorant comment by a famous ESPN writer already and Bleacher Report? Man Bleacher Report has some serious issues with Harden. Do not believe me? Here you go.
There are MANY more tweets like this from Bleacher Report. Bleacher Report frames this stuff like Harden is the only person to ever do this stuff. I am not some Harden apologist, but imagine if they vined every single thing Westbrook did wrong. All of the outrageous shots, the times he’s blocked, the times he turns over the ball, or all of his awful defensive missteps. These sort of things frame things to the public like Harden is the worst defensive player in the league, and that he is the only one to do it. Neither of those two things are true. All of this started with this YouTube video.
This video went viral and it opened the eyes to everyone how bad Harden was defensively and this video became the reason the big networks hate him now. All of this leaks down to the writers around the league who have a vote. Not all of the writers with a vote follow blindly with the trends and many of them are very knowledgable about the game of basketball, but there are a few who do not do their own research. Hell, a writer for the for the Houston Rockets had voted for Trevor Ariza as one of the top 3 candidates for Defensive Player of the Year, while the Rockets were points better defensively with Ariza off the court. Demarcus Cousins even received 3 votes for one of the All Defensive teams so there are some bad apples with those given the prize of being able to vote on these awards. The voters supremely screwed this one up. There is no way Kyle Lowry, Klay Thompson, or Damian Lillard had a better season than James Harden. Bleacher Report posted enough vines to plant the seeds of hate for Harden throughout the NBA and the voters. If anyone did even 10 minutes of research upon the topic they would have known Harden should have easily received his 4th All NBA Team nod. I mean c’mon. The man had Jason Terry at 38 years old getting 17 minutes a game, Michael Beasley getting 18 minutes a game, Josh Smith playing 18 minutes a game, and Corey Brewer… Saying his name is enough actually. He took this team full of nothing to the playoffs and should be respected for even getting that far.