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Put Some Respect On The Beard

James Harden is a generational talent that we should respect and enjoy before he’s done playing and it’s too late.

More than once, Harden has modified his style of play so that it not only stands out, but drives his stat line through the roof. We thought that we had seen the best of Harden when he put up historic stats throughout the 2017-2018 season and led his team to a one-seed in the west, all without their second-best player, Chris Paul.

Though Harden and the Rockets came up a little short in game seven of the Western Conference Finals against Golden State, given his individual and team success, it would be hard to imagine Harden somehow pulling off a more impressive season than last, but that is exactly what he has done. Though it’s personal success, not exactly team success. The Rockets currently sit at fifth place in the west and have already loss more than seven games than they did all of last season.

Still One could argue that he may even have a stronger case for MVP award this year. The team’s struggles have forced him to carry even more of the workload. Harden is currently on one of the most historic scoring runs in NBA history having scored thirty or more points in thirtyone  straight games. The only player with more, NBA Hall of Famer, Wilt Chamberlain.

Even more impressive is how many of these points are unassisted. Meaning, he’s working to get all of these buckets himself. He has willed his team to the fifth seed in the west after a terrible start. Though with Harden putting up historic numbers, people continue to have questions regarding his style of play and whether or not it will translate to playoff success. Many also critique how much he dominates the ball, others question his willingness to play defense.

What you can’t question is his ability to get buckets. He scores in flurries and in a variety of different ways.  The step back three, the step back travel three (What even is a travel anymore?) straight line drive, the eurostep – Harden has it all offensively. Much has been made about his 11.6 free throws attempted per game this season. When asked what he would say to people who are mad he goes to the free throw line so much he responded, “Stop fouling. It’s simple.”

Often defenders have to pick and choose how they want to defend him, knowing they’re going to give up something. The two aspects of his game, the step back three and ability to draw contact, makes him at times impossible to guard. Bite on the step back, he gets to the rim and finishes. If he doesn’t finish, he draws a foul. If you don’t come out on the step back soon enough, then he drains a three from behind arc and sometimes still manages to draw a foul. To some people, this is boring basketball and a problem for the league. For others, it’s revolutionizing offensive basketball.

Harden is a magician with the ball. He dribbles around elite defenders like he has the ball on a string. Before he can pull the rabbit out of his hat, he hits a three, leaving you little time to react. Opposing defenses can only hope Harden doesn’t find his zone early, because when he does, it seems like the best thing a defender can do is to sit on the floor, legs crossed and hope he doesn’t find a way to draw a foul.

Few players in the history of the NBA have had the ability to score at will, Harden is one of them. He has developed his game into an art. Many will try to emulate, few will have success.

Will his ball-dominant style of play win the Rockets a title? Probably not. But we need to appreciate James Harden for the generational talent that he is. With twenty-six games remaining, Harden leads the NBA in scoring at 36.5 points per game. Only three other players in NBA history have averaged thirty-five or more points per game: Kobe Bryant, Rick Barry, and Wilt Chamberlain. All former NBA champions. Harden hopes to join them both in points and championships.

Written by Billy Gamboe

Billy Gamboe is a contributor to The Schpiel.

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